Not At Home

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Flamingos on Calpe’s salt marshes

We didn’t rush out of Calpe. I knew this would probably be our last night sail this year, and I wanted to savour the evening’s impressions – the two-step grumble of the racheted chain falling in to the locker, the almost imperceptible motion of sailing off anchor, the helicopter whirr of the wind in the jib, the squishy splashy sounds of waves against us, the salty stick of sea air on sun tightened skin. We sped up gently as the staysail was hoisted, and glided down the bay past the beaches where we’d made landings for this and that. This place hadn’t been the most beautiful or interesting, but it had been incredibly happy, and we were prepared to miss it.

Our usual system for tacking involves Rich bringing in one running backstay and me steering with an outstretched leg while undoing the other behind me, then a swap of position as I release the head sail sheets and Rich tightens them in on my original side. We performed this while sunset orange flashed in the windows of beach hotels and stained the light rock of the penon, and I took some photos as we headed out into the Ibiza strait. As night fell the great rock dulled to grey, then black, and was left behind without us, and we thanked it and called goodbye with fearful glances to one another. I was scared of the stresses of finding work, Rich nervous about his new job, both of us intimidated by the notion of finding, approaching and affording a marina. We were full of hugs, touches and reassurances, with talk alternating between discussing what we needed to do when we got to Mallorca and consoling each other that we could manage it whatever.

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Last sunset over mainland Spain

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Cheerio Penon de Ifach. Love you.

Overnight the sea was less supportive. The waves didn’t look big but they were going in odd and different directions, and beating towards the wind had us hitting them at funny angles, jolting the boat and making both sleep and waking watches uncomfortable and effortsome. When we got to our anchorage in North Ibiza the next morning we were cranky and exhausted, and though Rich managed a snorkel I mostly watched movies, cooked and ate until I allowed myself to pass out. The beach looked busy, but the land looked green and lush and gave me hope for Mallorca.

The next morning we had anticipated a huge wind, but there was none in the unusually cloudy bay. Ah well, we’d tack out to sea. Ah, none here, we’d sail past the end of Ibiza that must be sheltering it. Ah, none here… We had halved our main sail area with two reefs the night before to cope with the onslaught, and though we filled most of the space with a topsail we were still doing only two knots. Then one. Then none.

Thunder rumbled over Ibiza. We decided to put the engine on if only to get further from the storm that seemed to be approaching. Within an hour or two the wind was finally up and we cut the engine to speed downwind towards Mallorca, whose mountains we could already see some 50 miles away, but the storm did not like being left behind. A downpour descended, our first rainy sail this side of Biscay, and we laughed a lot while both staying on deck like the idiots we are. I’m not sure about the psychology of it all but getting soaked does seem to put both of us in very good spirits. Then the wind got up, and by the evening we were removing the topsail and staysail to stay at 7 knots as we bashed our way into Mallorca’s south west approach to Palma. The rain had cleared, but darkness and high winds were our new challenges as we headed towards Magaluf and on to our anchorage for the night.

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Aw, it’s just like being back in England. Except warm.

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Pretty spatters and run-offs not captured very well here

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Mallorca looking less than inviting

The wind eased as we got closer in, the pair of us pointing and exclaiming at yet another bay of outrageous development and its sparkling lights. Just after Magaluf’s north end (lit by a gigantic pair of blue tips that it turns out are a bungee chair ride) we went to nip in to the south corner of Palmanova, the next bay, to stop for the rest of the night. Though we could make out most of the larger outlying obstacles we found ourselves bewildered by other craft whose lights were difficult to discern against all the lights ashore – a tall tower that seemed to be on land turned out on closer inspection to be a yacht’s well lit mast, and then a hotel on the far shore whose orange lights shone in line after line turned out to be a single super motor yacht, much closer than we’d realised. We had more neighbours than we’d had in all of northern Spain put together, and we wove our way between them cautiously by motor, a torch at the ready, before putting the anchor down and breathing sighs of relief.

Neighbours can be helpful things to have, and the next morning one of them dinghied over and told us that this bay can actually be anchored in all year round. Our brains whirred – could this be true? Could we live this far from Rich’s job in Palma? Would it work for us? What’s ashore here apart from hotels? Are we about to save a tonne of marina money? We decided to give it a try for a couple of weeks and see what happened. Gwen seemed happy for now, bobbing in the sunny bay with Fanny and Bob trailed out behind like ducklings. In a spirit of “checking out the new neighbourhood” I went ashore on my own for some shopping, and came back in a state of shock.

First impressions of Palmanova: It’s Magaluf. It’s Benidorm. It’s Daily Mails and Full Englishes. It’s theme pubs and inflatable toys. It’s cock shaped key rings and lapdance clubs. It’s stags and hens getting wasted and performing sex acts for bets. It’s “Prince William’s” menu del dia featuring real yorkshire puddings. Exposed white skin coated in raw burn or inch thick foundation, head-wide necks and muscle carved chests dribbled with football tattoos, gawping dead stares giving you “evils”. I looked for veg in all the self-styled “supermarkets” and found only crisps and booze. I went to buy a postcard and got chatted up by the checkout clerk. I went to get a beer and talked myself out of a panic attack. I rowed home in tears. This is my new home? What is there here for me?

That night I worried. Rain poured down and we leapt out of bed to shut hatches and protect items on deck. The next morning the sun shone, the sea beckoned and the world seemed a little better – this is not all there is. I went online to find out about Palma and was intrigued by what sounds like a brilliant city, and snorkelled round the boat to check on the anchor before the waterskiers and jetskiers got started for the day. Rich and I went ashore together and found areas beyond the busy sea front scariness, and popped in to an enormous Aldi where they have real fruit and vegetables. We found the bus stop, and saw that Palma is only a half hour ride away. We went to Magaluf and found a cool looking theme park among the pubs and hotels. In the evening we had a quick drink with Rich’s new boss, who seems like a really decent chap, and his adorable wee son. By evening we were back on Gwen and enthused, making plans to the sounds of battling crooners in distant sea front bars (“Delilah” overlapping with “I’m Still Standing”) and the first chants of karaoke that would go on until long after we fell asleep.

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Kathmandu Park in Magaluf has an upside down pub, a huge awesome climbing frame and a mini golf course with waterfalls…

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…and this crazy octopus. We must go round it before it shuts for winter.

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“You know how you always see people taking photos of each other in front of pointless things? Well, I’ve decided to take one” says the man I love.

We’re going to check out Palma tomorrow, and more of the island over our weekends. I’m still slightly bewildered that we’ve stopped cruising and yet I’m not back in the Shire, and I hope to get there for a visit over the winter. As much if not more than back home, I’m going to miss cruising. I’m going to miss waking up somewhere new and going to explore. I’m going to miss the work of sailing and the life of not working. I’ve learned so much – so many subtle peculiarities of sailing and of how Gwen, Geordi and Rich do it. I am so pleased to be here largely because I am so pleased with how we got here. We’ve logged 2,100 sailing miles since Millbrook. Four years after Gwen became ours she has done what we dreamed of doing with her, and the purpose of any hardship we endured for her back home has been revealed. I still feel like she owes me a bigger trip, another adventure, and we’re going to work towards that. But, for the next six months at least, we’ve got a new life to live, hopefully one that can include the odd weekend sail to remind us of Gwen’s brilliance, the glory of the sea and the joy of a silent secluded anchorage. We’ve got a lot to get used to and a lot to discover, and hopefully a lot more to enjoy.

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Small waves swing us softly like a nursery rhyme mother. The view from a porthole flips from sea to coast to sky and back. The rig rumbles quietly above and a cup ticks against its shelf in the galley. I light the cooker – first with a slosh of meths, poured on and clicked alight, and when that’s gone out with the paraffin hob – pressurised liquid freshly heated into vapour. Water is foot-pumped into the kettle and that goes on, and I climb on deck in the cool of the morning, watching the world until I hear the whistle blow. We’re in Calpe, another tourist town but a rather spectacular one thanks to an enormous rock, the Penon de Ifach, whose shaft towers over the marina beside which we’re anchored and is shading me to the tune of a chorus of seagulls. Sadly, our stay here hasn’t all been this peaceful.

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Quick quiz: What do you find at the top of this rock?

Our intention had been to leave Almeria, head east around Cabo de Gata and then north for Cartagena. On our first day we tried to sidestep the wind that blew into the bay, but at greater and greater angles against it we found ourselves so far from any useful course that we anchored at dusk near a long, flat empty beach to try again on the next.

In the morning we motored around the strange bare rock formations that outline the Cabo. Clouds shielded us from the scalding sun and a low wind awoke to nudge us in the right direction. The engine went off and Rich turned his attention to increasing our sail area, proclaiming that if it’s canvas, it’ll help. He hoisted our misshapen topsail on spars made from windsurfer masts and hung our storm jib under the boom to trap any spare gust that thought it was getting away with it.

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If there’s a bright centre to the universe, you’re on the planet it’s farthest from

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Grab all the spare canvas and tie it to something!

Soon we were doing well. Too well. At this rate we would arrive in Cartagena at 2am, long before we had expected. As we were going to sail overnight anyway, why not make the most of it and head as far north as we could? Rich put this to me in the early evening and I grumbled – I wanted to see Cartagena. “Okay, then. I suppose. We DO need to make progress. Just so long as we’re not going to bloody Benidorm.” Rich showed me a photo of Calpe from a pilot guide and I was convinced.

At night, in some parts of coastal Europe, lonely perverts like to make themselves known over the emergency frequency on the VHF. Their transmissions feature monotonous swearing, or growled intentions of what is going to be stuck where, or just repeated odd phrases. They’re always in English, always dangerous in their misuse of the reserved emergency channel, and frequently entertaining. Anything can be entertaining on a night watch.

We took our watches on at our usual times, neither of us sleeping well as we’d gotten used to a different routine, taking it in turns to babysit Geordi as the wind wound down. When it returned with the morning sun we never quite regained the speed we’d had the day before, but we were happy – it’s difficult not to be on a downwind race as you occupy yourself with books, Spanish lessons, music and radio comedy in the sun. We were far off the coast and in good spirits, laughing off less comfortable reminders of longer term absence from land – the spots that grow on your arse from sitting down too long, the smells that emanate from your pits, the galley and the heads.

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Another bloody gorgeous sunrise at sea

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In this photo you have two opportunities to admire the noble curve of Richard’s nose

In the afternoon the wind started to die and we looked at the chart for places to spend the night. As we wouldn’t make it to Calpe and needed somewhere we could buy coffee (running out was bound to drive us mad in the morning) and easily motor in to once the light had gone, there was only one clear option. Bloody Benidorm. We entered the huge bay past its solo island in the black of midnight, our path illuminated by a million lights. Above the long coast that was glistening with skyscraper hotels and thick apartment blocks, the shadowy sillhouettes of yet more development could be made out. Rich refused to share my excitement about how fantastically awful our time there could be. We anchored and went to bed.

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Benidorm by night

We woke to a knock on deck. I heaved my tired body up the steps in pants and a vest to find a pair of lifeguards telling us to move our boat further from a swimming zone that we were clearly not in. We abided, lifting the anchor, hoisting the gib, blowing a few feet, dropping the anchor again. By day the grim squeeze of holiday accommodation looked even more forboding, but intrigued and still coffee-less we gathered our wits as best we could and got Fanny off deck to go and explore. 20 yards from the now well occupied sand, more power-mad lifeguards yelled to stop us from bringing the dinghy ashore. “Where do we go then?” They pointed far down the huge bay, towards a marina we weren’t going to bloody well pay for. Swearwords were whispered as we returned to Gwen, and in the end I went for another of my superwoman swimming sessions to retrieve precious caffeine to jumpstart our brains.

Benidorm’s sea front held some of the dubious creature comforts I’d imagined – blown up photos of Full English breakfasts and racks of Suns and Daily Mails – but it had a great atmosphere. Everywhere there were people, and everywhere the people looked happy. I wrote a postcard to my old workplace as that seemed to be the thing to do, and swam back to Gwen to relieve Rich of his high rise horror by motoring merrily away to somewhere more welcoming.

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Benidorm turns The Chard into Wilfred Brambell

We passed a stunning waterfall among the rocks and noticed the return of green to the landscape with delight. After several weeks in Tattooine, might a patch of Endor be in sight? We anchored near Calpe’s Ifach marina and entered a state of holiday bliss that was not to end for a few days. Not only was the rock as magnificent as the pilot book suggested, but the rampant but thankfully less Benidormy tourist area was as uncomplicatedly pleasant as Nerja’s. In the evening we found a cheap three course meal, a new romper suit for me and, joy of joys, a set of air hockey tables that only cost a Euro a go just off the promenade. I really, really love air hockey. In the daytimes we snorkelled and climbed the Penon, and I found a British broadsheet paper full of bad news whose cryptic kept me occupied for two day’s sunbathes while rich spotted Anchortopus – a huge cephalopod cuddling our anchor who I tried but failed to spot on my own sea explorations. Even going to the larger Calpe town to do laundry was like a big jolly, with beers in the sun watching stereotypically oikish construction workers and a happy half hour picking through the incredible canned goods and cakes of a Dutch supermarket. For two or three days life was like a second honeymoon, which is nice as we’ve never had a first, or got married.

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Quiz answer: Cats!

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You can pay to have a go on a hoverboard here. For a minute or two, we wish we were rich.

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The big beach on the other side of the peninsula

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This week’s neighbours are probably baby garfish

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At least it’s not another aqueduct path

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Massive poser in new romper suit

But then there was Thursday.

Most mornings we check the grib files to see what the wind has in store for us, but on Thursday we lay in, and by the time Rich had had a look and decided it might have been a good day to head for Ibiza, it was already looking too late to go. Ah well, we’d stay a while longer here. I was mid-phone conversation to a friend back in the Shire when the Chard interrupted – “shall we just go?” – and I agreed. We threw down the hung laundry, heaved the dinghies on board and tidied away everything loose, and we got the sail covers off and the main ready to hoist. The wind was rising and we decided to motor round the cape until it was in our favour to save time. I went to turn the engine key and heard the familiar grind of its awakening followed by… nothing. It kept turning over, but there was no spark, no explosion. Oh.

We tried again and again, and had the engine cover off to look, but it was useless. Rich called his dad, our helpline mechanic, and they went through a few possibilities, but repair was clearly going to have to wait for another day. The wind was getting quite worryingly strong and we realised we might not be okay staying in the anchorage, so we decided to sail out and find another anchorage even if we weren’t heading out towards the islands. But as I took the tiller and main and Rich heaved on the anchor lever the chain started to snatch on the windlass gypsy, banging repeatedly as it rose and dove in the waves. After one clank too many he turned to me and called through a stiff jaw “we’re going to break something. We’re not going anywhere”, and put more anchor chain out.

By four pm the boat was rearing up and down, the bowsprit smashing in to waves and dunking the jib. Our minds, bodies and contingency plans seemed to be exhausted, but we had to keep coming up with ways to make the boat safer. If our trusty fisherman anchor should drag or the anchor chain snap we had no way to protect ourselves from hurtling into the rocks beside the beach. We nearly got Fanny off to row out a second anchor, but realised that we’d probably put a hole through her trying to put the anchor in. We got our huge unused seized danforth anchor ready to throw overboard, and chucked a CQR anchor into the water with a fender attached. Rich got into his wetsuit and snorkel mask and swam with all his strength into the still growing wind and waves, pulling the fendered rope out and dragging the CQR in the direction of our first anchor, while I directed him from on deck and yelled alerts when jetskis or speedboats came near, doing a reasonably good job of not sounding as terrified as I was. He returned beaten but glad to have seen that the fisherman was holding, at least for now.

And then we waited. For four hours in our crap-crowded aft cabin we watched our position on the GPS like lobsters watching the hand descending into the restaurant tank, looking away only to jump outside and check our position in the real world. We held each other, listened to some radio, and even put a movie on another screen beside the chart plotter, anything to distract us from the horror on which we had to keep an eye. But we were both wired. My face bore a stiff hypnotic stare, stained with silent tears. Rich got up to poo frequently while I could barely get a wee out with all the tension. Time passed slowly, and then the wind eased, and then eased some more. We had dinner in the saloon, exchanging not-really-sure smiles while we watched the most mindless movie we could find (Deadpool, since you asked), and went to the dubious comfort of separate beds to prevent in-duvet collisions in the strongest anchorage roll we’ve had yet. The waves were still hurtling in after the wind had turned and died, and Gwen was now side-on to them.

A big lesson that we already knew but had somehow managed to forget had been learned. We’ve been so obsessed with getting to Mallorca that in watching the grib files neither of us had even thought that the supposed 15 knots (it was definitely more) blowing us straight into the beach might be a problem. We’d dismissed Thursday as a “not sailing day”, and then wondered whether it could be a “maybe sailing day”, and missed the obvious, clear sign that we needed to be out of the anchorage by then either way. We’re paying attention again now, you’ll probably be glad to know.

The engine, it turned out yesterday, had a small air leak in the fuel system which took Rich, his dad and me all afternoon to find. But when it was fixed (clever Chard) we were elated, and I felt instantly comfortable with whatever is to come all over again. We had a celebratory snorkel in the late afternoon, a first outing for the only slightly broken 2Euro snorkelling fins that Rich found for me in a rare charity shop sighting. I can now dive down much easier than before, and I finally got to see my first wild octopus, and to watch a second shifting around and over rocks with incredible shape and colour changing fluidity. I love octopusses even more than air hockey. Though they’re on offer in almost every restaurant in coastal Spain we refuse to eat them because we suspect they’re superior to humans.

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Screenshot from Rich’s anchortopus video, which is too big to upload at the moment.

We are nearly at the end of our cruising for this year. Soon we will have to go to Mallorca and work. We need to get Gwen established somewhere quickly in a marina, and I have to find a job pretty quickly if we’re to afford their apparently exorbitant fees. It’s all go, and a bit exciting, and a bit scary. But the wind looks low, safe and useless, for today and tomorrow. So it’s back to the holiday with me. The sun rises over the Penon and the bay looks calm and beautiful, and there are salt marshes full of flamingoes to explore.

Dorne Chorus

The nudie anchorage stayed warm and clear. We spent two nights off the short grey beach beneath the tall grey rock face, peppered with bare browning couples, and though we never joined them ashore I was confident that my own undress on deck would not offend. When I did suit up it was in my wetsuit, exploring the nearby rocks with Rich, glad of a rest from sailing and a chance to do something fun together.

On the cloudy morning of our departure I realised I’d run out of Rizlas, and it was decided by he who doesn’t smoke that I should go ashore and get some.

“No, you’re alright”. I was happy to wait until our next anchorage.
“No, you really need to go and get some”. Forced smile.

It seems the notion of sailing with me in nicotine withdrawal is not appealing, and as Rich’s addiction to bread is equally strong I could grab a loaf or two at the same time. We pottered Gwen to the next beach, off the town of La Rabita, but with an opportune wind due any moment (ha!) and after two days of not using a dinghy, neither of us could be bothered to get one off the boat. I descended the swimming ladder in my bikini with a brief shudder, the dry bag we use for Rich’s tablet stuffed with money and a frock and slung around my shoulder, and swam over to the long empty beach. There, a merry chap popped over to greet me, and we conversed poorly in Spanish and arm waving until I couldn’t understand any more.

“Has your engine broken?”
“No”
“So why did you swim?”
“I want to buy bread”
“Ah, you go to that shop there by the Coca Cola sign”
“Thank you very much”
“Are you Australian?”

I got my dress on, did the shopping and then swam back to Gwen carrying a drybag full of papers and torn loaves, with a parcel of folded frock and breakfast strapped to my head. I felt extraordinarily proud, like a flat-chested brunette Ursula Andress carrying ham and cheese croissants instead of shells, and I bragged about it all morning as we motored away.

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Not as exotic as it sounds, is it?

Now the wind seems to always come from the east. Unfortunately, we’re heading east, and our topsail-less 16 tonne boat doesn’t point well to windward. In very low winds she doesn’t point anywhere bloody near windward, hence the first use of our motor in the Med and the ensuing afternoon of zigzagging that followed us getting sick of the noise and turning it off. By the time we got near somewhere, anywhere, to stay the night we were both sick of shooting miles away from our destination to return only slightly closer to it, and we were squeezing less than two knots out of the meagre breeze. We put the engine back on.

Running the engine has one redeeming feature. The Chard, who has a lifelong fear of singing, will deign to give it a go when masked by the growling, squeaking chunder of Perkins 4-107. The challenge is to find songs that we both know the words to, which as far as we know is limited to The Muppets’ Rainbow Connection and most of Pulp’s Different Class, but for me there is little more wonderful than seeing Rich set loose his voice to the sun kissed sky. In brief rare moments I can even hear him.

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Mountains, bridges, polytunnels and buildings, all in glorious brown and grey

We stayed a single, shoreless night off Almerimar, which is at the edge of a low curve of land that extends from the mountainous coast. Southern Spain looks how Mars will look once terraforming has just started to work and the property developers and tour companies take over. Like much of the Costas we’ve seen so far this area was baked, barren and dirt coloured, and featured even more wide, plastic covered polytunnels – so many that the area they inhabit can been seen as a huge white patch on a zoomed out Google Earth. As we sailed along more of it the next day we reminisced about the lush green of the north, and of back ‘ome.

We rounded the corner to find the wind turning generously. For a few glorious hours we were able to sail in a steady, strong wind that was just enough shy of ahead of us that the boat could keep to our envisioned course, and our moods became joyous. In England, a sail to windward means three jumpers, two pairs of trousers and some sturdy socks – here, we were still in our t-shirts as hair flew and songs were sung to the graciously miniature waves (by me, of course). We listened to podcasts that were gifted by a recent surge in internet access, learned some Spanish and chatted about all sorts, and had to shed sail quickly to slow down for our new anchorage at Almeria.

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The entrance to Almeria features a huge railway bridge to nowhere

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They’re very fond of fountains, but they aren’t all turned on

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This one had a cat resting in the middle (until I came over to take a photo)

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The cathedral, originally built to be a mosque

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Sadly we didn’t get to go to Manchester Club

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Can anyone explain what the shitting hell is going on here?

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Cave homes in the hillsides

We had a day of rest due to mild hangover and bad weather – including actual rain! – and got kicked out of that anchorage by the guarded but civil Guardia Civil, so now we’re a little further down the coast. Today we went ashore again. Almeria’s a big city with all the navigational challenges that suggests, and it’s not terribly well labelled. We’ve seen signs pointing to a photography gallery and later a house of butterflies, that when followed seemed to lead to a network of small restaurants and a Lidl, which is a bit frustrating in the formidable afternoon sizzle. One thing could be easily located – in the west of the city, where there is a strong Moroccan influence in buildings and restaurants, we visited the huge walled fortification of the Alcazaba. This megacastle was built by the Moors, expanded by the Christians, and (not that this is the most important thing to me or anything) is currently serving as the capital of Dorne in Game of Thrones. I’ll put some pictures here so I don’t have to describe it because I’m lazy.

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Rich in the Muslim end, from the Christian end

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The gardeny end

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Some of the excavations they didn’t turn in to gardens

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We’re in a castle! (It’s very educational)

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The walled walk to the other, smaller castle

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It’s a broody one, this, isn’t it.

And now we’re back on the boat, in the comfort of our own living room, listening to the cozy drone of recently downloaded Radio 4. Gwen is home, and she commands an intense love from both of us. I have never before heaped adoration on a house or, save for a few short love affairs with bicycles, a mode of transport, but this wide-hipped beast that has been our gaff(er) for the last few years is not just where I keep my stuff or move from a to b, she is the centre of my ever changing world. We might yell at Geordi, the cooker, the anchor, and curse the elements, but Gwen is spoken to only in the gentlest terms, even in times of stress “now come on, Gwen, wouldn’t you rather pack that in”. I hug bits of her sometimes, especially when I need to to stand up. Rich often talks about changing her to a junk, and though he’s almost selling me on the rig, I’m not sure that it’s practical for her. But I noticed the other day that if we ever talk about one day getting another boat, we do it ashore, out of her earshot. She’s lurching right now in a wavey windless anchorage, and I’m rocking into snooziness. I ask her to calm down. We’ve another windward wander tomorrow, and I’m about ready for some food.

Off The Track

The daily downloaded wind forecast may guide our journey, and this often works, but sometimes processing and deciding what to do with it is like reading tea leaves or runes – belief over science. Sometimes that belief is enough to have us packed up and raring to go into five hours of fuck all, sometimes it has us watching from ashore saying “that’s weird, that looks like a good wind. Shall we… well it’s a bit late now… another beer?”. In these day of low winds the moral of the story is to sail when you see the waves ripple and the tell tails flutter, and not mind where you end up or when.

The dolphins have disappeared since Gibraltar, and I miss them. Rain has become a thing of memory, and cold is something that happens only when you’ve snorkelled too long or stayed out late in damp clothes. Nerja provided a little of the latter on a nicely unexpected day of exploration. The day before I’d had a snoozy day to myself and explored more of the town while Rich went off to climb up something. I don’t have the same fascination with mountains that he does – they look very pretty from down here, if you ask me, so I’d expected to hear some fantastic stories and not feel like I’d missed very much. But when he’d returned, he’d been oddly coy about the day’s events. “It was really good, and I think you should come back there with me tomorrow. I’m not going to tell you anything, except you need to wear your trainers”.

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The closest thing I get to a garden

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They do good aqueducts in Nerja. Here’s one of the more elaborate ones.

The morning came and I was gently guided in what to wear and when to be ready. We dinghied ashore and walked towards the caves, then took a turning up a mountain pass that Rich hadn’t walked the day before “I’m trying out a new route, yesterday was a bit rocky”, enjoying the smells of wild rosemary and thyme, and nicking a bit for the galley. He divulged morsels of his previous journey, and we saw black tufty squirrels and steep, craggy peaks as described. After a few sweaty, umbrella-shaded hours on a wide cliff edge path we descended to the side of an aqueduct that followed two mountains’ curves, over a valley carved with stunning swirls of rock and the occasional cave, huge trees and grasses bursting from the unseen depths below. Here we ate our packed lunch and bathed our feet in the aqueduct’s narrow stream.

I deliberately allowed Rich’s vague answers to my questions to pass, particularly as there were choices to be made. We could either go the way Rich had the day before, straight down and walk back along the valley, or we could try to follow the narrow aqueduct wall further into the unknown before descending. Rich didn’t want to scare me, so he suggested the former. I smiled, knowing what we both really wanted, and made our decision. Soon we were teetering along the step’s-width ledge of the aqueduct, sometimes with the aid of the ricketiest of thin metal hand rails (that occasionally sloped away suggesting the comeuppance of previous pedestrians), sometimes with nothing between us and the 200ft drop but our sense of balance and ability to block out thoughts of rocky death. The path stopped just short of too much, just past exciting as hell. We stepped down the rocks and my earlier suspicions were confirmed – I could hear the water down the valley get even louder.

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Aqueduct of doom. “Turn your brain off” Rich advises. I comply.

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Massive bloody grasses. Human male showed here for scale.

The path was difficult to follow around the first bit of river we found. “You might as well get your feet wet – it’s like this all the way back” Rich warned me. But it wasn’t – it was a lot more. The first waterfall we found tumbled into a little chest-high pool, and Rich got my bikini top and our shorts out of his bag “you’re probably going to need these”. I gasped with gratitude and amazement – Rich is so bad at surprises that when I do get them, they’re extra surprising. We both got in, trainers and all, and after the initial shock of this freshwater power shower I tore down the river to find the next, and the next. We continued to come across short waterfalls dribbling between the river’s rocks as we clambered over them for the rest of the afternoon. Sometimes they’d have a powerful jaccuzi-like bubble pool at the bottom, or a rock you could sit on to soak in the splash, and many were lined with a crust of mineral build-up that gave them the unreal feel of a movie set. We’d only seen a couple of people but we’d decided to stay clothed, which proved to be a good thing as over the next few hours we found more and more popular pools, rammed with Spanish walkers of all ages who had trudged up the path we were about to descend. Eventually the river narrowed between two mighty curving faces of rock and we got to admire the patterned corridor of the valley up close, our tired feet still stumbling through the ankle-high waters of the rocky riverbed. We dried, walked back to Nerja and ate at the first place we thought we could afford, and went to bed delighted and exhausted.

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Surprise waterfall glee

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One of many grand cliffs

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The guide, paddling.

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Planning an attack

We had one more day in Nerja to recover, and we’ve been flitting along the coast east of there ever since. Like our time in the rias, we stay a day or so, sail a day, see what happens. There hasn’t been much wind so we do between 5 and 20 miles at a time. When we drop anchor one or both of us leaps into the briney and snorkels round to see where it’s set. We eat, maybe go ashore, maybe spend too much on a hammock and decide we can’t go ashore for another couple of days because it’s too expensive. Though it’d be nice to stay and nice to spend we’re limited by both time and money – they expire together in late October so we have to get to Mallorca by then.

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Snorkel heaven in Ensenada de los Berengueles

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Weird thing underwater

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Even weirder thing underwater…

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This is getting ridiculous.

And I wish that was all I had to say about the last few days, but I’m afraid it isn’t. Even in paradise, this appartment-blasted mountainous coast of unending sun and clear fishy waters, you’re only as happy as your head. After Nerja mine got ill, though I couldn’t have told you how at first. One day we had an argument, but it ended, things were okay. On the next day a grumble from Rich hit me hard – a comment, a sound of disgust in his voice – I reacted and he bit back. Within the hour I started to feel scared of upsetting him. The next day I was scared of everything except the sailing. I held my tongue, cried when he was on deck and I was below or vice versa, started doing everything I could around the boat to ward off any more anger – don’t take pens from the nav table, he doesn’t like that, don’t leave water around the sink, wash up – he won’t be angry about that. I scolded and tried to coax myself, gripping tight to any faint feeling of power.

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Calm on the surface and mental underneath

Over two days this melted glob of fearful feelings hardened. I checked and double checked things I could be doing wrong. I wrote notes to myself on how to respond to things, how to behave. I felt like giving up all the time but remained determined to persevere, shaking and screaming inside if necessary. Out loud I would suppress anything but for the simplest agreements and boat discussions. Rich seemed not to notice except to avoid me sometimes, which hurt all the more – did he not care that the happy girl had gone? But I knew he would be upset if I let anything out so I cowered in silence, broken by rare but precious distractions – a good book chapter, a solitary smile at the sea. I knew it was fake and flimsy – a coping mechanism like holding your breath under the surface and gasping for air when nobody’s watching – but it was the only programme I was running. Then, through writing it all down, I gradually started to wonder that maybe this wasn’t reality, that it probably started with the hormone pills that I started taking… when? After leaving Nerja. Ah. I stopped taking them yesterday, and though I can’t say the jitters are all gone I can see clearer now. I can see the angry ghosts from pasts I’ve projected on to my simple life with a grumpy gorgeous man who I know better than that, the kind who takes me on surprise waterfall rambles. I can see my anxiety in overload chewing at my self worth, and I can feel its jaws loosening. I can’t breathe a sigh of relief yet, but I’m enjoying our new spot a lot. And I won’t be taking those pills again.

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Gwen in Ensenada de los Berengueles

Tonight’s spot’s off a nudist beach near La Rabita. I was so happy to see the naked folk on our arrival I insisted we both leap in to the water in the buff as a sign of good faith. Swimming in the nud around my burly home is another dream I didn’t know I had, come true. The water’s clear as anything but empty – it lacks the clicky clicky fish sound we’ve come to know in previous anchorages (what is it that makes the fish tick?). There’s no wind forecast for tomorrow, so we may explore the rocks, and apparently we’re due some big winds in the next few days – all in the wrong direction but who cares, it’s wind, and we have somewhere to go. That’s if the wind does like the grib file says it will, and that’s not for us to know. We’ll just watch the waves, go with whatever they tell us, and enjoy each other and the beautiful new in between.

How It Rolls

When I start writing this, I’ve not left the boat for four days. I’m wearing a bikini and a dressing gown indoors at six in the afternoon. I ache everywhere, particularly in my fingers, shoulders, legs… oh, I ache everywhere. The boat’s at anchor but it’s rolling back and forth, back and forth – I’m doing involuntary crunches. Can I not get some rest? Not unless I go ashore, and I’m not ready for that yet.

So the last you heard, we were in Sines. I wasn’t feeling too well, so we stayed there for a couple more days enjoying the richness of its artsy cobbledy centre: a photography exhibition in the town hall, a huge modern art gallery full of things that make you go “hmmm” and a thin, elegantly ramshackle bar that provided margaritas and internet access. In between there were visits to and from several of that odd brand of single-handing sailing man who crop up from anchorage to anchorage, telling tales of sailing and the women with whom they are in trouble. They all sailed away before we did, catching the good winds that hurtled towards the south outside Sines’ harbour wall.

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The big lift, still not working

When we did leave, the wind was still strong. We sailed quickly down the rest of the west coast of Portugal and were in such huge waves by the time we reached the end that we decided to tack all the way round into the wind and back rather than gybing round the corner. After churning around in a washing machine with our huge boom refusing to bash over on its first go, we eventually hauled Gwen around and headed towards the south coast of Europe. We looked back, and saw that Geordi’s windvane had snapped in half, unable to withstand the changing blasts turning with our boat.

In that kind of a roll your direction is not always as apparent as you might think. You are moving forwards and yet the motion you feel most is the roll from left to right, up and down. You might be doing six knots, but there are 15 knots of wind blowing at your head, and who knows how much gravity playing with your guts. The birds and dolphins all seem to do it so easily, with such instinct and ease, and you’re there burning with the effort of it all. But it’s okay – you’re carving your way through it too. Your motion is in centuries of evolution, not millenia – your three white wings are lashed to your wooden arms. You are being tossed about on the border of all that ocean below you and all that sky above, and you know you’re moving forward somehow, and that feels good.

As we came round Cape St Vincent with its huge swirls of stone set in high square cliffs we passed the outlying rock, looking at first like a big stone cock and balls (no photo, sorry). We passed the most south westerly anchorage in Europe in favour of a more sheltered one at Belixe and spent the night there, waking up early for another day’s sail beneath cliffs that reflected deep red from a vibrant sunrise.

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Breakfast, lunch and dinner on the journey south

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The south east edge of Europe

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Cliffs by morning

The wind and waves were gentler on the south coast, and by lunchtime they had almost disappeared. I had been feeling a bit slovenly since Bayona and was bemoaning my beer belly when it occurred to me that I could do something about it. I set off for a run, on the spot, on deck. By the time I was done half an hour later we had picked up two knots and I had run two miles. Dolphins came to visit, bigger than our usual Common friends and less inclined to play. Faro appeared in the distance, its white geometric faces looking like sandstone carvings until you got closer and realised that it was all tower blocks with planes emerging every few minutes – Easyjet’s gateway to the Algarve.

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Rich found my exercise hugely amusing, and took a photo, and a video that is never to be shown

We entered the lagoon that sits in front of Faro and its smaller neighbour, Olhao, between two low islands. We had thought we might have to motor in, but we had made good time since my burst of athleticism and the wind was still good, so we sailed through the narrow entrance and along to our anchorage off the island of Culatra with more ease than we’d anticipated. There we slept long sleeps, found the cheapest lunch we could on the sand covered island and used a morning of surprising calm to get the rigging oiled and the first stages of my decoration of Geordi’s new wind vane underway.

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Culatra from the lagoon entrance

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The chard’s monkey toes always help when he climbs the mast

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A town on Culatra

On our second day there we took Fanny over to visit Olhao. I rowed two miles on a high tide that just covered the expanse of reeds and grasses that make up the natural reserve in the centre of the lagoon (in Spain, we learned that “natural reserve” means “place where everyone fishes” – Portugal seems no different) and we anchored just off the promenade. The city was majestic and decayed, filled with ornate tiled buildings with complicated ironwork balconies and carved wooden doors. Its faded exteriors lined roads made up of recent but traditional cobbled patterns, and on the outskirts, in an extended wander that wore both of us out, we found huge areas of interesting graffiti. We ate at a place that must be in a French guide book, and got served slower than all our French neighbours, but we didn’t mind – the bad but friendly service gave us ample time to hide from the suffocating afternoon sun that was now robbed of its breeze.

By the journey back, the tide had fallen and the wind had risen. Rich rowed hard against the wind until the water became too shallow, and then got out and pulled Fanny for a while, with me still inside. I jumped out too, and he towed her off round the narrow streams of water while I walked across the muddy bank, watched by curlews and oyster catchers, picking up odd shells. At the end of the reserve there was still a mile or so to cross, and once we were both back in the dinghy it took all of Rich’s strength to haul us into the wind. Waves crashed in to us and water started to fill Fanny. I laughed. We both laughed. We were getting soaked.

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Rich being windswept and heroic. “You’re like Joseph pulling Mary on the donkey” I tell him, before getting off the damn donkey and walking

We spotted an inflatable dinghy that didn’t seem to be anchored, and decided that it must have escaped from a larger boat who we might be able to contact via our VHF. Rich rowed over and jumped in it to start its outboard engine while I gripped on to its side with both arms, and soon we were hurtling back towards Gwen as a twosome, getting even more drenched than we had been before. Just before we reached home the dinghy’s owners motored towards us in their yacht and thanked us for rescuing it with twenty euros. We collapsed in to Gwen a pair of sleepy wrecks and decided that we probably wouldn’t go anywhere the next day.

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Great T-shirt purchase from another Chinese bazaar

That was our plan. Our plan had also been to relax in the Gaudiana, the river between Portugal and Spain, for a few days, and then push on to a few days’ stay in Gibraltar. But the next morning, we undid all our plans. A good wind was pushing across the whole southern coast and through the Gibraltar straits for a couple of days, after which it would disappear into a multidirectional mess, so we decided to seize the opportunity and make progress towards our new home in the Med. Within a couple of hours we’d tidied up the boat and got ourselves ready for a two night trip, and left under sail to find huge waves and a strong wind outside the lagoon’s limits. After rolling violently with the sea hurtling into us from the side (if you’re tired of hearing about rolling, imagine how I feel) we turned more towards the east. My entry in the log book says “I know why Jack Sparrow walks like that.” Reefs were added and sails were taken down to ease the violence, and galloping downwind with the waves at our back felt better, more like running with the pack than trying to traverse a stampede. I started the night watch with only the gib sail up, steering with a repaired Geordi, whistling a tune. “No whistling” Rich shouted up from bed. Apparently you shouldn’t whistle on a boat. It wakes the wind, and we had plenty.

Overnight our neighbours in the water got strange and unidentifiable. I woke Rich to ask him to sit with me for five minutes because a huge ship with confusing lights wasn’t appearing on our AIS and was getting scarily close. He did, and we both gawped as we passed close to its stern and saw a military helicopter on its blue-lit landing pad, reeking of fuel and noisily awaiting lift off. As soon as we had passed, the ship sped off into the night.

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When I woke from my second night watch, Rich was beaming. “Look out here” he called down. “Everything right of the mast is Africa. Everything to the left is Europe.” The mountainous shapes of two continents had risen before us, and over that day we had plenty of opportunity to admire them both. The wind turned with the land to guide us gently along with hardly an adjustment to our vane, and a strong tidal current swept beneath in our favour to give us hitherto unknown speeds. I looked longingly at Morocco from the other side of the channel. We passed Spain and its watersports destinations on our left, and then Britain in the form of Gibraltar’s bare angular island, and emerged into the Meditterenean. Overnight we passed our first hints of the Spanish Mediterranean coast – the terrifying tower block hotel complexes and tourist promenades of Marbella and Terromalinos were rendered as pretty lights against huge hilly moonlight sillhouettes. In the early morning the wind was up and my watch was as punishing as anything we’ve sailed so far, but it ended in a gorgeously easy slip towards the town we’d been hoping to reach (but not imagining we realistically could).

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“Goodnight Europe” “Goodnight Africa”

And now we’re here. I’ve been ashore since I started writing this, and the Costa Del Sol is pretty much as you’d expect. Lots of restaurants and hotels, lots of Brits and Germans, lots of overdevelopment in pretty but sparse countryside. The beach is lovely but a little crowded, the town is pretty but parts are oddly familiar. The paella is excellent, particularly as it’s been paid for by the grateful wayward dinghy owners back in Portugal. Being in a tourist destination has its perks – I’ve found orange squash, which I’ve been craving since France but doesn’t seem to exist in most of Spain. And we’ve even forked out for a proper excursion to the prehistoric caves for which Nerja is famous, which are so spectacular I’d have to take a whole other blog post to describe them.

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It’s funny to have taken our home to a tourist town. It’s good, but it’s really weird. For once we don’t know anything of what’s going on in the country we’re visiting. Where are the “real” people and businesses and trades? Or is this it? Droves of visitors line the beach in the day and the bars at night, and we are the only boat here, looking back in on it like it’s on the other side of a museum glass. It’ll take a bit of getting used to, I think, which should be helped by the long gorgeous sun drenched days, the clear water in which swimming is so pleasant and the dry picturesque mountains.

Also, we’ve stopped rolling for a bit, which is nice.

Silver Linings

It’s a long one again. You ready?

On our second night in Carril we ventured over to Villagarcia de Arosa for Noite das Meigas, the night of the witches, braving a perilous moonlit row around the lines and lines of bent and twisted re-bar sticks that mark the fishing areas off the beach. Strolling in, it wasn’t long before we heard sounds of gathered people and folk music and came upon our first witches in garish wigs and black capes. Soon stations of costumed servers appeared from street to street, each accompanied by a sound system playing traditional songs and a wicker hut spire. Women handed omelettes, empanadas and other treats to queues of grateful punters, while the men stirred great ceramic cauldrons, pouring spirits and sugar in to big blue flames to join floating apple rinds and spice.

It took us a while, but we realised that the witches were giving the food away for free, and that for one euro you could buy a small ceramic cup which would be filled by any warlock whose flames had burned out enough booze. The delicious warm spirit, like a mulled Christmas drink without the fruitiness, was still alcoholic enough to require gentle sipping as you wandered from station to station to sample new music and nibbles. New-age and wiccan fayre was sold at one stall on the main street, cartoonish halloween tat at the next – no one idea of witchcraft seemed to be standard. In the plaza, troupes of Galician dancers and musicians performed on a lit stage: skirts billowing with backward-stepped twirls, pipes droning in unbroken loops, and all the performers grinning so much that the love of their crafts became infectious. We were merry when we eventually wobbled back to Gwen, still clutching tumblers of sticky potion.

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I am the god of hellfire, and I bring you…

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Witch pops

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Arousa’s plaza

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Young witch bagpipers learn from the old masters

The next morning it was time to go. In the rias, a sail between anchorages every day or two keeps your body well aired and your time well spread between towns. The sailing was pleasant so we carried on all the way to Combarro, the most touristy town we encountered in Galicia, famous for the granaries that stand on stone stilts along the waters edge. Here, witchcraft is a permanent part of the merchandisable culture, not a once-a-year event. After some expensive beers and a wander round thin, crowded winding streets we returned to the stage in the main plaza for the evening’s entertainment. Once again we were fooled by the impressive backing band. Once again we were in for ghastly europop, this time in the form of a four piece samba boy band. Though their gyrating moves were not mirrored by an audience in which older pairs danced gentle steps, they still managed to find three teenage girls to take part in an extended ass shaking competition. Time to go, we figured, and rowed home to the sound of the Macarena.

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When we get there, it’s low tide. I get off at the steps while Rich pushes the dinghy ashore through the mud. It’s pretty funny and there are a few of us watching by the end.

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Because of this, Fanny’s bottom still looks like this.

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Viney dinner spot

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It’s them again

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Combarro

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Granary granary granary

With the wind still in our favour we sailed off to Baiona, where we decided to have an extended rest before the long slog to southern Portugal. I finished off my design work and put together a couple of good looking CVs for us to email off to boatyards, schools and offices from the internet cafe ashore. In the mornings we explored the castle, town and hillside. In the afternoons for siesta I sunbathed on the beach or on deck. In the evenings we found cheap tapas, met or caught up with other cruisers, and talked about oiling the rigging and other boat jobs that we never seem to get around to. The pleasure of staying in one place long enough to know our way around and have a favourite shop (who can resist a Chinese market called “Bazaar Wang”?) was edged with a strangeness of stasis – the saloon got messy, and we got bored. One morning we got a phonecall and Rich was offered a job in Majorca. Suddenly we had a destination for the winter, and our plans to spend the weekend at the Illas Ceis went out of the window. By the evening we’d shopped, tidied, refuelled and watered and were motoring out to sea to sail a long passage past Portugal, in no wind. We turned the motor off for dinner, and left it off.

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Our first night was clear and starlit, with the sails flapping back and forth noisily while the breeze refused to grow. On my watch, my mind did not find its usual hypnotised calm. It busied itself imagining huge musical numbers with full chorus, a great bassline and a joyous horn section, over the top of which I wrote terrible rock musical numbers that rhymed “Orion” with “a saucepan to fry on”. Orion, played by 80s Paul Nicholas, watched down over me as I raised my arms to conduct the sky, but this euphoric flight of fancy was not to last and was eventually drowned out. I woke Rich early from his slumber to help me restrict the violent slamming of the sails, gaff and boom in the tiny wind.

The next morning the fog came, and, but for a few odd hours of partial clarity here and there, it filled the next two and a half days. In the thick grey, the distinctions between directions and between sky and sea faded to a damp blur. We got the radar reflector up and prepared for the worst. For all the head-aching effort it takes to blow the thing, and for all its impressive volume, our fog horn still sounded like a kid’s party toy. Eventually we restricted its use to “if you see something” or “when you have something to announce”. PARP Richard has put on some trousers. PARP I need the toilet.

Watches became scarier and required more and more concentration. When there was wind, the speed of our motion into the unknown was frightening. When there was none, the accompanying reduction of steering ability made an encounter with any other craft a terrifying prospect. The horizon, or what hung in its place, had to be scoured at all times – if another yacht should appear in the grey we would need to react immediately. We also kept a regular watch of the AIS and put plenty of space between us and shipping and fishing vessels. Tension was high and we snapped at each other more than usual, occasionally descending in to serious grumps. We spent a lot of our off-watch time sleeping, exhausted from the extra effort the fog required, or watching movies to distract ourselves from the indiscernible reality above decks.

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I took a photo of this because it was the only thing I saw all day

By night it was rarely any better. On my first foggy night shift I was already bricking it when the wind changed direction and strengthened as I was hand steering to a compass bearing. Though we had a preventer on so we couldn’t gybe accidentally (gybing accidentally is on my top five terror list, as it could potentially destroy our rig and boat in a strong wind) it was enough to blow the main sail back and up towards me, and I steered quickly to correct it, muttering fearful incantations of “fuck off, fuck off, fuck off”. When Rich started his next watch I told him about it, and found his seeming lack of interest typical, but upsetting. I went to bed imagining the voice I wanted to hear, and told that about it instead.

“…and then I turned the boat and it was okay”

“it sounds like that was really scary”

“it was, it was!”

“and it sounds like you handled it really well”

“yes, thank you, yes, yes, I did”

“and you’re alright now, aren’t you?”

“no, now I’m lying in bed crying my eyes out like a twat”

“like who, Trish?”

“like… like Ellen McArthur?”

“that’s right, Trish, like Ellen Fucking McArthur. Cry, then cry some more. Then get some sleep.”

Night, however, provided the spectacles of the trip, most clearly on the third night in my second watch. Within the fuzzy blackness, phosphorescence drew faint edges on the waves closest to the boat, which got gradually brighter. Then the light extended, the wake and bow wave shimmering with ever bolder glows. A dolphin swam towards the boat, coated like a sparkling ghost, a fainter cloud billowing in its wake. Then another appeared, and another. I could see the misty shoals that they were chasing turn and twist, sometimes with individual fish shooting one way and another as darting lights. I could watch a glowing dolphin speed beneath one side the boat and shuffle to the other in time to watch it emerge. I stood up on the coach roof, my harness keeping me attached to the boat, and watched from on high as the sea all around me turned into a theatre of shimmering movement. At one point I saw a line of light up ahead which grew to a shape bigger than Gwen, facing towards her from beneath the surface as she passed. Was it a whale? Or a huge static shoal of fish? I started crying again.

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Our compass light mark 4 – a bike torch Rich has rigged up to an LED

On the fourth day we tried to stay positive, but failed. We mused that perhaps there is no such thing as Portugal. Rich hadn’t seen it on the occasion he had sailed down this way on a boat delivery, and we hadn’t seen it and were supposedly only 30 miles off shore, half way down its western coast. Perhaps they couldn’t be bothered to write this bit of the Matrix. Perhaps it’s just a set of giant smoke machines. When it did finally appear it was just as strange – has that huge bit of land been there all along? We tried to suppress little arguments but they bubbled up time and again until one was too much for Rich and sent him into a spin, and soon the entirety of our relationship was under question. As the light began to dwindle I asked if we could go to Sines and stay there the night. We were tired of being scared, and tired of each other, and another night in the fog that would inevitably return would be too much for me. He conceded.

The sun had set and the wind dropped when we went to gybe. We were performing our usual functions – Rich was up front and had taken off the preventer, and I was preparing to gently turn us to the other side of the wind – when something strange happened. The wind changed and started pushing the sail as though I had already turned, and no matter how much I steered us back, it would hardly change in relation to the boat. “Go East” Rich called, but I had already gone past east. The wind was turning faster than I could. “The wind’s doing something weird and I’m scared” I shouted to Rich, unable to contain the wavering in my voice. For the next ten minutes we attempted to sail the boat in any direction we could, but the wind continued to twist us around, with me desperately trying to follow it. We tried to heave to, but even that was violent and uncertain in this inconsistent breeze. At last we put on the engine and motored for three long hours towards land, our minds exhausted and our love strained, with as few words as possible. We navigated by sea lights and a huge gas works’ flame, and anchored in the fishing end of Sines’ harbour by exchanging terse commands before collapsing into separate berths at three in the morning.

Yesterday morning we woke to the smell of hot seagull shit, with a thousand of the little squawkers floating in the sun-cooked water around us, waiting for the fishing boats. We chatted, shared and understood a little better, hugged long and hard and napped deeply before heading ashore. Sines is a beautiful town despite its horrific appearance from sea. Cobbled streets are lined with cobbled pavements that link underlit shops and bars. Artistic graffiti adorns buildings, shops sell interesting and useful stuff and there is no siesta so it’s all open. There is a huge four storey lift that links the beach to the town, and that doesn’t work, so instead you wander up or down one of many zig zag paths, hitting musical instruments and leaping on trampolines in the public spaces between, perfect for the couple who desperately need to play. By the evening everything seemed a lot better, and it seemed a scary spat may have forged us closer in the end. A relief was spreading over us as we cosied up for a nice dull evening watching a favourite film (“Galaxy Quest” is brilliant).

Today we’ve met some lively old lads with boats and refuelled our bodies with hard bread and blessed inactivity. We’re in a bar that plays good funk and serves pear cider. We feel good again, and we’re glad we didn’t throw each other overboard or completely skip Portugal. We’re very glad that it exists, after all.

Molluscs and pooches

In chest-high waders or loose shorts and t-shirts, men and women wallowed out to their waists, their tanned skin wearing the growing morning sun. In their hands each carried a long vertical stick which protruded from the surface, widening underneath to a digging and sifting mechanism, and a bucket. For a few hours they rocked back and forth hard against their sticks, rhythmically, like grinding disco podium dancers, turning over the sandy sea bed and prising up the sh­ellfish who sought safety there. At lunchtime they returned to the shore to weigh their winnings.

From our boat, a little further out from Muros’ beach, we wondered that there’s any sea life left after the armies of diggers, fishers, divers and pot-droppers have had their way. But in Galicia their work seems never ending and the restaurants are always stacked. The most visibly sustainable seafood gatherers are those who manage the wide “viveros” that float between most anchorages in the rias. From each beam in each great wooden or plastic lattice, long branching ropes are draped down to the sea bed, laden with mussels who have latched on and expanded like heavy fruit. When they’re fully grown it takes a crane to lift the ropes out.

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Entering the Arosa Ria

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Vivero, complete with cormorants and gulls

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The best cafe in Caraminal. I like the tiles, Rich likes the weird mushroom.

We steer our way between viveros if we can, or change our passages to avoid them completely when the wind is low or in front of us. We sail off the anchor (always a joy) and carry on for a day or half a day, choosing our next destination by referring to an out of date pilot guide, a more recent but brief cruisers’ guide that Rich downloaded, and the recommendations of those we’ve met along the way. Sometimes we’re unlucky – our last anchorage off the charming town of A Pobra do Caraminal (where Rich climbed a massive hill with a fold up bike strapped to his back, and I ate a lot of biscuits while pushing through my design work) was within hearing range of the monstrous creaking whirr of a shipyard. Then a strong wind came and made it choppy and even noisier, so we used it the next morning to escape.

Planning only means so much. On yesterday’s trip we simply decided we’d had enough of sailing for the day and avoided the tight vivero slalom towards our original destination by plonking ourselves near an island that looked interesting. The anchor went down, the sails got tied up, and I had a much needed bucket shower that included an even more needed saucepan underwear wash. In no time we’d rowed to Interesting Island (Isla Cortegada) and were walking beneath huge pines in open bracken and brush one moment and into the cover of dense laurels another, spotting lizards and eating apples and chatting quietly so as not to scare the many birds we could hear but struggled to see.

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Shade and greenery: the two greatest luxuries of land

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Drying on deck. The answer to the question on the bottom left is, according to the film posters we’ve seen, “CASAFANTASMAS!”

In the afternoon we read, grazed and rested on Gwen. Andrew, who we met in Camarinas and bump into from time to time, motored past with a plastic bag offered in his outstretched arm, full of vegetables from his Portugese girlfriend’s garden, and we hooked it on board gratefully. Andrew’s a gem who tells me off for using the wrong boat words and digresses into tales of history and legend. Of the many sailing folk Rich gets chatting to I find those like him, with a good yarn and a wicked smile, more enjoyable than those who dwell only on practicality. Rich, on the other hand, can talk for hours to anybody providing boats are the subject. Recently I got trapped in a protracted conversation about the Perkins marine engine and nearly lost my mind. Rich thinks I need to be more forceful when suggesting we leave such situations, or somehow summon the nerve and nous to change the topic. I think he should be able to notice when my brain is dribbling out of my nose. I smile vacantly and mutter things about “really needing to get some dinner on”and finally resort to stabbing him in the leg with my fingernails. Everyone is kind and friendly, the rest of the evening is charming, and I am a terrible person.

Last night we went ashore in Carril, found internet, and forayed miserably in to the world of work and duty. Coir for the composting toilet was laboriously ordered to a post office in Bayona, where we must soon sail to retrieve it. Clients were contacted and changes to documents promised. Our conversation turned to sorting out our CVs and portfolios – the rigmarole that hints that the glory days of sailing, sunbathing and exploration are almost up. We have enough money to survive until the end of October, but we don’t want to leave it to the last minute to find our next income, so the job hunt begins at our next stop. We left the cafe before midnight and strolled down a wide and busy promenade to dance to a rock covers group that were blasting out in a children’s playpark. Enough with the sensible.

Tonight we’ll be walking a little further, to Villagarcia de Arosa, because it’s “Noite das Meigas”. This has something to do with witches, and that’s about all I can tell you. We’ve narrowly missed a fiesta in almost every place we’ve stopped so we’re going to seize this opportunity to celebrate, whatever it may be for. No doubt there will be fireworks, as Spain seems obsessed with the things and sets them off day and night. The picture on the poster featured a dog on a broomstick, perhaps something to do with the insanely yappy doglets attached to almost everybody on the promenade. Perhaps we’ll boil them in a cauldron. Or perhaps they’ll devour their human overlords. I’ll post a picture or two when we’ve found out.