Wednesday, 21 September 2011

A cruise through blues 4

Perched on a headland the Catalan flag, four red stripes on a yellow background, simply refused to flap. Southerlies were forecast from 10 am onwards. They were two hours late and I felt indignant. But as the flag’s lethargy infected my mood my irritation evaporated.

I lay back in OB, this was a good anchorage for a little boat, shallow, protected and with a little beach to visit and paths over the headland and up the cliffs. There was no view of the crowded little waterfront at Sa Tuna though the noise filtered round the cliffs.

The peace lifted like fog around noon with the arrival of a good part of the motorboat fleet. Craft crammed in, anchors splashed overboard. Shouts, screams and general loudness echoed from the rocks and I remained boat-bound and head down except to fend off when the entire crew of a nearby vessel leapt into the briny leaving me to watch how their boat slowly swung towards OB.

There are just 20 miles, if you take the direct route, from Sa Tuna to Cadaqués, but they are 20 miles of a special breed. It’s more like a crossing than a coastal passage as you’re up to 10 miles offshore at mid-point while you cross the Gulf of Roses. The feared Gulf I might say as when the Tramontana blows it can be very nasty indeed.

20 miles could take 6 hours or more depending on wind strength so when light southerlies arrived at 3 pm I knew it was too late to start. I thought about shifting a few miles up the coast to make for a shorter crossing but having climbed up to the flag and seen the open water I was put off. Too many motorboats.

As evening came and the crowds moved off I rowed round to SaTuna and parked on the pebble beach. A small crowd of children arrived and subjected me to an interrogation. As OB’s story unfolded they became more still more excited and inquisitive. ‘Have you seen dolphins?’ ‘Aren’t you scared of sharks?’ ‘How do you sleep?’ ‘How do you go to the lavatory?’ All the usual questions. By the time I got to a bar I found that the story had travelled ahead. ‘You’re the one who’s sailed to Ibiza in that little boat down on the beach, tell me, how the hell do you go to the lavatory on that thing?’

I decided to eat in a narrow street away from the sea front and as I tucked into a plate of grilled sardines the gang of children returned, now with an ipad. They wanted the address of this blog and the link to the Catalan documentary. It was interesting to talk to children who understood something of the sea, though 3 knots seemed impossibly slow to them accustomed as they were to engines.

In the darkness I rowed away to my anchorage, basking in the glow of OB’s minor fame and marvelling at the phosphorescence.

Monday, 12 September 2011

A cruise through blues 3

Only after pulling the bows up onto the little beach at Aigua-xellida did I realise how tired I was. Before my limbs got too heavy I knew that I had to reconfigure the boat for eating and sleeping and then cook and hit the sack.

The cove was hidden in a deep shade of the gloomy sort that you don’t often see in the Mediterranean and much less in summer. I’d stopped here on my last cruise up the coast and I hadn’t remembered it as being so lugubrious. However, it was calm and sheltered and I could get a decent rest without worrying about the boat or being disturbed by fishing boat wake, swell, beach cleaners, revellers or other noises from the shore.

I cooked up a nice mess of onions, anchovies, potatoes and tomatoes and was just making myself comfortable prior to eating when the mosquitoes arrived.

While receiving chemotherapy my blood had been so foul tasting and of such poor quality that mosquitoes had turned their noses up at me. But now I found that I was back on the menu. Big time. With the damn things in my mouth and eyes I climbed into the sleeping bag, covered my head and thought about getting the snorkel out of the stern locker. Sleep eventually came.

The dawn brought fresh hordes and I packed up everything as quickly as possible and got the hell out. Not far offshore they gave up the chase. I stopped rowing and had a look at the chart.

The next good stopping place lay about an hour north I reckoned. I rowed easily over the glassy swell the masts swaying smoothly across the lightening sky but there must have been a southerly setting current for after an hour I was only half way.

After two hours at the oars I found myself thinking hard about breakfast. ‘I’ll have a couple o’ fried eggs.’ I sang to the sky, ‘...and six rashers of bacon, four slices of bread and a fried tomato oh yeah! And two, yeah I said twooo cups of teeeee.’ And so on until I was dribbling down my shirtfront.

I pulled gently round the rocks at Sa Tuna, a flag on the headland hung limp and damp with dew. The waters were morning-pale and absolutely transparent, the only noise was the splash of oars and the creak of rope on wood. Cala Jugadora tucked under steep cliffs had a good view of the flag and would make the perfect spot to wait for the forecast winds that would send me northwards.

I slung out the hook and set about making breakfast.

Monday, 5 September 2011

A cruise through blues 2

My destination was Cadaqués and the XXIV Festival of Lateen Sail. It was only 35 miles away but with a firm wind on the nose it seemed to recede rather than approach. I’d lost masses of ground outside Palamos harbour sitting to the sea anchor while I double reefed the sails, stowed and lashed gear. All this should have been done on the beach of course, but as often happens when someone accompanies you down to the water, shakes your hand and says good-bye, you feel like your cue has arrived to exit stage left (rowing). I hopped in the boat, struck a heroic pose at the oars and before I knew it was blown out of sheltered waters and into the thick of it, drifting backwards over yesterday’s won ground.

A long day beating in stiff winds gave me a chance to reflect on OB’s windward performance and answer a question that’s puzzled me for a while. Why at times does she seem to perform so well and at others so poorly? It seems obvious now but the answer is sea state. OB heads up well in flat water. Even if there’s an underlying swell, if the wind is young and hasn’t yet ruffled the water, all’s well. It is chop that slows her, every breaking crest that slaps the bow knocking her off course.

There was plenty of wind blown chop on this afternoon and a northerly swell underneath. We must have sailed 20 odd miles but only made about 7 in the right direction. The wind died later on. I got an opportunity to bail and then I sat at the oars for an hour or so in order to reach a reasonable anchorage.

The rocky cliffs of the Costa Brava plunge steeply into the sea. Deep inlets and coves abound and the holidaying populace spend their days lounging on motorboats in the bays. At 7 o’clock they all head home. It’s rush hour. The sea from the cliffs to about 300 metres offshore becomes a motorway. It’s no place for a small boat under oars. The water gets so confused with wake rebounding from the rocks that forward progress becomes secondary to keeping the boat flat and dry. For every decent pull forwards you need at least four just to stay even keeled. As the throbbing craft thunder by and you change course to take the wake, first one way then the other, you can feel yourself beginning, under the fatigue of a day’s sailing, to unhinge.

It is madness.

But in this watery hell, almost more dangerous than others I’ve seen created by wind, I saw a splash and thought ‘dolphin’. I stared at the patch of water and a swordfish rose out, silhouetted against the sky. It jumped three times, a vision of grace, power and beauty. I wonder if anybody else on that crowded sea noticed it.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

A cruise through blues 1

I hadn’t realised when I last made the trip in 2008, that a cruise on the Costa Brava is really just a lesson in understanding the colour blue. It’s there in shades beyond alice and azure, demin and dodger, electric and iceberg, colbalt and cornflower, sapphire and true.

All my travels in OB seem to acquire a certain emotional intensity and this one, for all that I only had to cover 40 miles, was no different. Maybe it’s a mixture of the apprehensions and exasperations of trying to make headway amidst calms, ill winds and hundreds of motor craft and the fact that the little seven day saga is staged in surroundings of utter beauty and blueness. Even if you spend all day fretting over lack of forward progress, bitterly cursing the waterhogs and every evening agonising over your anchoring, the blue sea filters in, it fills you. And when you’re brimming it’s liable to come flooding out of your eyes.

Only 40 miles but a challenging 40 they turned out to be.

I launched in Sant Feliu de Guíxols, bright sunshine on the quay and thick fog just beyond the harbour wall. I’d only just touched the water but already I was a frustrated mariner.

Itching to get to sea but weather bound I went for a long boozy lunch with the unlikely excuse that it might be the last good, hot food I’d get for a while. The thick gauze lifted late afternoon taking the wind with it and I had a long, meandering 6-mile row to Palamos where, in the dark, I anchored off the town and commercial harbour.

The droning of beach-cleaning tractors, the shouts of revellers and the swell from returning fishing boats kept me just on the wrong side of slumber and set a precedent for lack of sleep and a mild irritation with all those not involved in sailing a small boat northwards.

I rowed ashore for coffee with a friend and even before we’d finished a port official came with the intention of fining OB for illegal parking. My friend is one who takes these things very seriously indeed. And just as well, for small engineless boats have all but lost their rights to those of bathers amid legislation to keep swimmers from under jet-skis and motor boats. Once you become water borne in the freewheeling way that I do the land makes you feel very unwelcome. A vague sense of persecution is one that I usually take to sea.

The official appeased, the coffee finished I rowed away just as the wind finally made up its mind what to do for the day. It would polish the sky, herd white horses over the sea and pump 18 knots onto my bow.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Summer Cruise, Part 6. Suddenly it was Sunday afternoon

All reefed down and neat the breeze was still strong enough to make the gusts a challenge. The offshore wind raked at the dark surface of the water in a way calculated to dry the throat of the observer who sits in a small boat. Onawind Blue just wanted to turn bows to the wind. I’ve learnt though that rather than letting her luff it can be more rewarding to stay committed. Sheeted in and with a firm hand on the tiller line, OB accelerates and it’s just a question of keeping my weight in the right place.

At times we were going so fast I felt like we could outstrip that tractor. And then for a few seconds she planed. You can’t expect a boat with a petite transom and pronounced stern rocker to plane, you need a wide, flat surface for that, ‘a straight run aft’ as they say. For a few brief moments she rose out of the water onto her aftermost third and zipped along.

But fun as all this was I had other plans. On those long, mainly sleepless, hospital nights last year there was one thing I used to think about while attempting to tire my brain to sleep. It was this: If caught on a rocky, lee shore in a vast amount of wind—on the north side of Cap de Creus in a Tramontana, for example—how would I configure the boat and, thus configured, would she sail to windward? The conundrum usually had the effect of keeping me awake all night, wide-eyed, spooked and mentally wrestling my small boat off the rocks. Often it was relief to see the nurse coming noisily at dawn with her tray-load of needles.

The strategy I developed went as follows: Deploy sea anchor or anchor depending on depth, drop and furl mainsail and lash outboard of the starboard thole pins. Drop mizzen, adjust mainsheet attachment and hoist on main mast. Sheet in and get the hell out.

At sea on this particular morning there was a ‘safe’ offshore wind and more than enough of it to test not only the practicalities of making the change over but the critical windward question as well. In a ‘lee shore’ situation it would all have to be done pretty slickly so while I looked for an exposed, windy spot to anchor I had a quick mental rehearsal.

The operation seemed to take a while amid angry, flogging sailcloth and with the boat slewing, griping, tipping and tilting. But eventually I hoisted and set the mizzen sail on the main mast. Suddenly madness evaporated and it was a quiet Sunday afternoon. The wind still blew emphatically but gone was the racket and the white knuckles. The boat pottered calmly along.

Mizzen sail on the main mast and mainsail tied outboard of the thole pins

In the next gust I tried to point up. I found myself instinctively moving back towards the stern. I normally sail to windward from a position well forward. But of course, I thought, with nothing set on the rear mast it would be my upper torso that acted as a mizzen sail. We were sailing close-hauled and making ground upwind. Coming up to tack I unbuttoned my shirt and held it out behind me for more ‘sail area’ and round she came. I made tighter, faster turns than usual not wanting to risk getting caught in irons for a moment. When a lull came I had to bear away or stop but with plenty of wind she was tracking along fine. I kept hacking away at it and after a while we had sailed right up under the cliffs where there was barely any wind at all. And there I anchored and had a celebratory swim.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Summer Cruise, Part 5. The most important meal of the day

The sea, combed flat by the offshore wind, looked dark and cold. A double reefed main and mizzen day for sure, but even that would probably be too much for the gusts. I’d have to be on the water to know. I would have pushed out straight away were it not for one precaution. I hadn’t had any breakfast.

I wasn’t hungry but on a day like today breakfast might be the only meal I got. I’d leave food till last though, hoping that all the boat jobs would wake my appetite. By the time the main was reefed and furled and the mizzen shortened and set, I had a yawning cavern inside.

Setting up the stove I saw that a tractor was thundering up the beach towards me. He didn’t look like he was going to turn. ‘Oh come on...’ I thought, putting down the frying pan and standing up, ‘Don’t do this to me.’ The tractor swerved round OB’s bow, a large metal rake slewing behind. If the driver had taken one look in my direction he’d have noticed my disgruntled expression. He set off on another lap and I went back to my eggs.

5 minutes later he was hammering my way again, aiming dead amidships. I switched off the stove, flipped the eggs onto a piece of bread and stood up. The tractor swerved and stopped. The driver was red faced, ‘Get out of the way! Can’t you see I’m trying to clean the beach! Jesus! Let a man work!’

Dumbfounded I watched him roar off. Was I being forced to sea, by the cleaner? I wolfed some sandwich, watching the tractor burn down the back straight. He entered the turn and came round, hugging the bend, then, bows pointing my way, the driver’s foot hit the floor.

My gullet was rammed with eggs but I wasn’t going to play chicken with this maniac. I stuffed the rest of the sandwich between my teeth and a fender under OB’s bow. Then I took hold of the stern and, like a frightened penguin with an overloaded wheelbarrow, waddled to the water.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Summer Cruise, Part 4. And the dawn brought unicylists

Back at the beach the lifeguards were packing up their tanning oils. Using the oars I kept Onawind Blue to seaward of the breaking waves waiting for the channel to clear of people and for a pause in the wave train. The sea calmed a tad. I rowed round the swimmers and to the beach pulling quickly up onto the sand before the next set of waves arrived.

It is pleasant to arrive somewhere from the sea but my brief pleasure was soon followed by a sense of oppression. I felt like I’d just arrived at an informal party in outrageous fancy dress. A colony of sunbathers occupied the beach each with swimwear and a bright towel—there was no need to bring a boat with sails to the gathering, that was just plain showing off.

I looked around but no one seemed interested in this late arrival, for all his attention grabbing apparel. And even if they were, how can one possibly convey the subtle blends of exhilaration and angst that make cruising a small boat so sublime. Near me a group of French boys were having a sand battle. My French doesn’t quite stretch to ‘I’ll skin you alive if you get one grain of sand in this boat.’ But I can growl quite convincingly. And that was my job for the rest of the afternoon—to sit on the foredeck being bearish.

As the people left and the mosquitoes arrived I ended my vigil and slunk off to the beach bar for cold beer. I let the th-th-thumping music wash through me rather than have it b-b-boom against my eardrums and watched a young man strip down to his underwear for a photo. ‘Get your balls out.’ squealed the photographer. I turned away but caught an arm movement that suggested he complied with her wishes.

I set up OB’s tent with satisfaction. Made from a dismantled, one man, Decathlon 2second tent it was working well, though I’d yet to spend an entire night underneath it. As I sat and looked at the sea and made my own guesses for the forecast I doubted I’d get through the night without taking the tent down. It might have been wishful thinking but I reckoned the swell and cloud would disappear and that the Mestral would reassert itself.

At 4am I found myself smiling as I dismantled the wildly flapping tent. The sand, lit by the half moon, blew in cool swathes across the beach and into the sea. The Mestral had returned, polishing the sky to brilliant black.

I remade the bed in an attempt to stop the ingress of sand and when I laid my head down was aware that my pillow had blown away. I thought of it cartwheeling across the Mediterranean and cursed, I hate losing gear. I judged the wind by how much the sand stung my cheek where it protruded from the sleeping bag—force 5 to 6 without a doubt.

The wind seemed to strengthen with the dawn. I looked sleepily around. Coming towards the boat were a group of cyclists, unicyclists with piles of unruly dreadlocks, Italian unicyclists, ‘Yes, we're crazy.’ They said and did I have any bread to spare, they were hungry and had a hard day of cycling ahead of them if they were going to be in Barcelona for the weekend. I gave them an orange each and got back to the business of wondering how to tackle the conditions at sea.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Summer Cruise, Part 3. Clouds shifted off inland.

No sooner had I struggled out of the small harbour entrance, rowing against the breeze than the guts fell out of the wind. The large, forbidding cloud unburdened itself of a few weighty drops of rain. And that, it seemed, was the end of the weather. Left to roll around on a grey and greasy swell Onawind Blue creaked and groaned. I rowed over to the main harbour mouth and positioned myself to watch Ametlla’s large fishing fleet return home.

Occasionally a boat would stop, presumably to finish sorting the catch, rocking around broadside on to the sea. I hoped I might pick up a few scraps but the seagulls were too quick. I’d lost my line and hooks the day before, probably snagging the bottom rather than a large fish.

But a wind came wrinkling the waves and without a thought I hoisted sail and followed it north. Where to? I wondered. Well I’d find out when I got there. Clouds shifted off inland, the sea turned blue again and white horses rolled up behind us.

From where I was sitting I could see that the coves and small bays that I passed were closed out to waves. I could hear the rumble of water drumming on distant rocks. I kept heading north knowing that at Sant Jordi d’Alfama there was a sheltered beach and a small marina.

Soon the distinctive castle of Saint George appeared on a headland but the bay on the other side didn’t look too promising. I anchored and stowed the sails then rowed down the buoyed channel to check out the beach. The navigation channel was chocker with children and parents playing in the waves. I stared hard at the lifeguards whose job it is to keep bathers out of channels but they were busy admiring their abs, so I rowed off to inspect the marina.

What was once a stunning natural inlet and haven for small boats fell prey some years ago to developers. The lush curves of the inlet have been brought into line with tons of concrete and where pines once tumbled down to the sea cement sits with grim rigidity. I rowed in, awed by the accumulative horsepower of all the outboard engines and the ugliness of motorboats.

The marina is well protected, I’ll give it that, and down at the bottom end the waters were as untroubled as the remotest backwater. On the quay a dockhand polished a stainless steel water and electricity pick up point.
‘Can I stay the night.’ I asked.
‘How much?’
‘What’s your overall length?’
‘Just under 5 metres—no need for water or electricity.’
‘30 euros.’
What could I say? The only words that occurred to me were the same ones that I’d hurled at the guy on the flybridge of the great white turd. I rowed back out to sea.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Summer cruise, Part 2. The knife is sharp, the knife cuts.

A roughed up rowing boat...

and a modern tuna fishing boat in l'Amettla de Mar

So I spent the afternoon making short tacks down the coast. Nosing into every cove and sailing excitingly close in under the cliffs, I stared into the mesmerisingly clear water judging when to tack by the depth. I didn’t switch the GPS on as this only has the effect of making me check our speed every few minutes. Gadgets turn us into nerds.

By the end of the afternoon I’d reached l’Ampolla and swung east to the low lying arm of the river Ebro delta; El punta del Fangar. Banks of fine grey brown sand shifting about on the winds and currents, low scrub and driftwood, gulls, terns and egrets, acres of solitude.

I ran the boat aground and took a line ashore to a handy concrete stub and then waded astern with the anchor. This would be a fine place to spend the night providing the Mestral wind didn’t blow. The beach was white with gulls and their mess and I strolled a round with a cup of tea wondering if I should get the boat up and out of the water for a safer night. But the beach looked like it was often under water, probably when the North Westerly wind blew and waves washed over it. Finally I made a phone call, a drop in temperature and northerlies were forecast. I could be stuck on a lee shore with a nasty sea washing over it.

On the last of the wind I sailed back to Port l’Estany anchoring just as the sun dropped behind the hills. I was feeling festive after a great day’s sailing and opened some wine and cooked up a little feast.

It was while I was putting up the tent, cutting a cable tie off a pole, that I found myself thinking, ‘This is not a seaman like way to be using the boat knife.’ And the next minute, blood flowed. Only a short cut to the end of that useful middle finger but deep enough to need a long while to stop bleeding, I knew that in one stupid moment I’d ruined the next day’s sailing. I bedded down still sucking my finger determined that if I couldn’t sail tomorrow then at least I’d go and buy some minimal first aid.

The Mestral came on strong in the night and I fought the tent into submission and hoisted the mizzen to stop us slewing all over, my finger opening up with an eager red flow. Shredded cloud streaked across a waning moon and when the morning came it was low, grey and windy. Just as well I’d moved off that beach the evening before. I walked into town to find a pharmacy.

L’Ametlla de Mar is an ugly, impenetrable town. For all its favoured geographical position, its architecture and planning all speak of a hard, subsistence existence by the sea. On this dull Friday morning the town was full of blank faced French tourists peering into the port waters and wondering how they’d ended up somewhere so ugly and impenetrable.

The town’s scant charms lie in its history and anybody with a grain of salty cred will refer to the place not as l’Ametlla de Mar, Almond on Sea, but as ‘La Cala’, which is part of the town’s original name; La Cala de l’Amtella, The Cove of the Almond, or Almond Cove. Over a couple of centuries the town grew up around the protected cove or cala to become an important fishing port and the seat of Catalan nautical wisdom.

I bought some rudimentary first aid, repaired my finger on a bench and then succumbed to the gravitational pull exerted over me by the restaurant ‘El Pescador’ The Fisherman. Full of paella and calamari I walked back to the boat. She looked so lovely sitting there and the wind was so emphatic that I decided to go for a sail. Despite a large, forbidding cloud that lurked just offshore.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Summer cruise. Part 1, An encounter with the great white Turd

After a few days making lists and packing gear I trailered OB down to l’Ametlla de Mar and launched at Port l’Estany. I had three days of cruising ahead of me, no huge amounts of sea miles to cover, no arrangements or timetables or deadlines, no plans except to enjoy the local coastline and, er, no map or chart. I’d forgotten that piece of kit.

At first I saw this as an unforgivable, lubberly error but then I realised that since I lost my faith in Spanish maps I’ve generally guided myself by intuition. And anyway in Morbihan, under the illusion that charts were to be issued, I’d had no other guide than the map on the place setting where I’d enjoyed oysters on my first night. And hadn’t I sailed round the east coast of Ibiza with a freebie petrol station road map. And didn’t I once navigate the streets of St Helier, Jersey with nothing but a souvenir teatowel.

I was familiar with the shoreline, no map would be no problem and anyway it fitted with my new attitude of more spontaneous, instinctive cruising. But chart or no, adrenalin charged sailing was just around the corner.

OB was sailing herself close hauled and I was gazing up and down the coast wondering whether to loosen sheets and sail north or tack, tighten and go south. A motorboat was coming up from behind on my starboard side, I paid it no heed except to register that soon I’d be eating some wake. But as it came barrelling over the sea it looked less and less like it intended to turn and more and more like it might run me down. ‘Well he must have seen me,’ I thought—I could see the skipper and others on the flybridge—‘He’ll turn.’

‘He’ll turn...he’ll turn...he’ll turn...’ and suddenly I was jumping to unlock the tiller and bearing away. 40ft of white plastic thundered by. I could almost touch it. Torrents of insults spewed from my mouth, I stood up, my right arm and middle finger stabbing through the air but this wasn’t a convenient posture as we were right under the boat’s rooster tail. I threw my weight on the gunwale and stopped her going over but got drenched as water flooded aboard. And still insults flew from my mouth.

Spanish is a great language for swearing, you can do things like shit on the grave of someone’s whoring mother, and although I did this whole heartedly it didn’t quite hit the spot like a deep throated, well rounded Fuck you!

The skipper with his swept back grey locks and blue striped shirt with white collar and cuffs gave as good as he got. He’d obviously got the money to own this sort of boat due to a talent for always having the last word, for as we went out of ear shot he slung the contents of his glass at me.

I stood with my arm stretched above me and finger rigid, bellowing obscenities until I could bellow no more. As the boat became a dot on the northern horizon my anger passed, I tacked, turned south, tighten the sheets and started to bail.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Difficult launching at Lloret de Mar

My rowing team had a hard time of it at last weekend’s regattas at Lloret de Mar. The recent north easterlies had brought a large swell which, arriving at a steep beach surged alarmingly. Sometimes the undertow left the boat’s sterns grinding in the sand while their bows were lifted high in the air.

I didn’t go but my team mate Inma, who sent me the photos, said, (roughly translated), ‘It was a hard day, the sea was impressive and every time we had to board and launch it was like doing a penance. We applauded every time a team arrived safely at the beach. We didn’t have a very good day, the sea state did for our lane but all four boats got round and we’re still in the lead overall.’

Photos by ‘el club de rem, Palamos’ and Karma Quilez.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Sail the Western Med aboard a Brigantine

My good friends aboard the tall ship El Cyrano are soon leaving on the first ‘Tall Ship Training Experience.’ And there are still some places available.

Leaving Tarragona on the 16th of July the plan is to sail north to France, weather permitting of course, over 6 days. The Cyrano will spend each night at a port on the Catalan coast. If you want to gain a unique view of the north western Mediterranean in summer, away from the crowds, I’d thoroughly recommend the trip.

Anyone who signs up will form part of a watch and be expected to participate in sailing and running the boat together with the professional crew. You can expect a full and varied sailing experience on board a well-found ship as well as the opportunity to meet new, interesting people and work in a team alongside them.

Personally I hope to be able to join the Cyrano, if not on this first journey then on the next from the 30th of July until the 4th of August. I’ve sailed up the Catalan coast once in OB and I’d love to do it again on a large sailing vessel, not so much for the chance to relax, gazing up at curves of canvas or to rediscover the coastal harbours and coves as for the opportunity to learn about sailing a craft of this size.

The price is 880 euros per person (ex VAT) for six days with all meals included. You won’t need much more than a sleeping bag, some light, simple clothing and some money for beers ashore.

Dates for this summer are July 16th to 21st. July 30th to August 4th. August 6th to August 11th. August 20th to august 25th. August 27th to September 1st. September 3rd to September 8th.

Email Ton, who speaks excellent English, at

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Lateen sailing festival Cambrils

OB and Santa Espina
Photo by Josep-Anton Trepat

When I rang the organisers of the V Trobada de Vela Llatina de Cambrils—worrying as I occasionally do that I’ll be told that home made, ply and epoxy boats, have no place among the majestic remnants of Mediterranean maritime history—I was received with genuine enthusiasm and welcomed to take part.

Photo by Montse Granollers

Feeling rather honoured I felt I’d better prove my worth by sailing to Cambrils but no sooner was the thought out than the weather changed. 20 miles with the wind bang on the nose would have taken more time than I had and, I’ll admit, would have been more hard work than I felt like. Still feeling rather nesh I put OB on the trailer and pootled down early on Saturday morning.

Photo by Montse Granollers

All the boats were moored at the fish dock and I rafted alongside a pretty lateen craft and was warmly greeted. Actually warmth and generosity marked the whole event. I bumped into a lot of old friends and met many new ones who were familiar with Onawind Blue from her TV appearance. I was touched to receive a round of applause as I collected a goody bag at the end of the first skipper’s meeting.

23 boats took part from as far apart as Sète in France in the north to the Albufera of Valencia in the south. We had a marvellous morning sail in a friendly 8 knot onshore breeze, a group picnic with the boats rafted together, long chats over coffee and then an evening sail for those that wanted.

Photo by Montse Granollers

The few boats that sailed out formed the backdrop to a demonstration of traditional fishing techniques. Fishermen, sailors, villagers and tourists set nets from the beach with the help of llagut rowing boats. I watched from the sea and didn’t catch much except the mellow changing light.

L'Esperance from Sete

After the French Atlantic I found the event beautifully Mediterranean, I swear we squeezed 70 minutes out of every hour. We didn’t sit down to our evening meal until 23.45 and wound up much later. ‘There’s always time for everything,’ a friend of mine often says, ‘except a good night’s sleep.’ And just 6 hours after hitting the sack I found myself standing in the queue for a breakfast of barbequed sardines and red wine of the sort that gives a zing to your morning, as long as you don’t stop and rest as then you simply fall asleep.

With sardine fingers we rowed across Cambrils harbour to visit La Teresa, a fishing boat from the ‘30’s being restored under the eye of the son of the original builder. And then Gerard Martí, director of the local history museum and one of the event organisers gave us a moving account of the fierce storm of 1911 in which 80 Catalan fishermen were lost, many near Cambrils.

Lola, built in 1906, the oldest boat in the fleet.

Each boat was presented with a flower and followed Lola out to the point where the fishing boats foundered 100 years ago for a memorial ceremony. There was no wind and I was rowing so the ceremony took place before OB arrived.

My friend Jaume Amengual was aboard rowing with me. Jaume was taken out of school at 12 to join his father’s fishing boat and he fished for 20 years before setting up his own nautical company. Together, a little to the north of the actual spot, we had our own little ceremony in which I threw the flower overboard and then tipped beer over the side before both drinking to those lost and each saying a few words. It made an emotive end to a great weekend.

For more photos visit El Mar és el Camí, Artesà Nàutic and El Mar de Amics

'Alba' from the Albufera region of Valencia
Santa Espinsa

Sa Xicote

Above photos by Montse Granollers

Thursday, 16 June 2011

More from Morbihan

The only other Spanish people up at Morbihan, apart from the Basques who were the guests of honour, were a couple of friends from Catalunya. I had no idea they’d attend, though being the saltiest couple I know I suppose it was hardly surprising. Xavi Canos and Monica Sitjes live in Cardona a landlocked town about 100km from the sea, yet most weekends they can be found sailing their Drascombe Scaffie somewhere on the Catalan coast.

One of the bonuses about running into friends, apart from their uncanny knowledge of bus times (they’d done this before you see), was that they could take photos.

Onawind Blue was distinctly camera shy all week. I’ve been through a few videos on youtube and haven’t seen a trace of her. Except in this one of the fleet arriving in St Goustan, after a long afternoon beating up the river Loch. Xavi and Mónica are some of the first in and you can just see OB’s sails in the background at 2.05.

The next morning my friends sailed close and got some good shots of OB going down the river and on the Golfe.

All photos by Mónica Sitjes.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Water, wind, wood and oysters

Of the 70 photos I took at least half were shot from the hip and just show the gunwale, an oar and some water. I quite like them but the Semaine du Golfe was more than that. Here’s a selection of the better pics with brief commentary.

The voile-aviron fleet pulled up on the beach at the Ille d’Arz.
There were many interesting boats but I didn’t get to do much chatting to owners so please forgive the lack of info.

Onawind Blue running down on the fleet.

As well as more talking about boats, I could have done with more time sitting on the quay eating oysters. I’d barely got to the bit about the butter being spread too thick before it was time to move on again.

In the dawn light, on the high tide mark after a night sleeping under the mizzen sail near Saint Armel. A woman stopped by and gave me some biscuits and an apple then announced she was going home to get coffee. But before she could return the tide had risen and I was following the fleet out of the bay.

Between islands there were often traffic jams and bottlenecks. At other times the current was so strong that we all whizzed through like so many bath toys but in those spectacular moments I couldn’t stop and get the camera out.

This is Bob, homemade in Sweden.

A couple in a Tideway dinghy.

A singlehander in a honey-varnished clinker pram.

This man, Bart I think his name was, did it in a currach, which he was painting on the first day with a viscous black mixture. You could always tell when you were sailing downwind of him by the fumes.

Boats in the tide between Locmariaquer and Port-Navalo.

The Parade on Saturday: 1300 craft all crowding up the golf towards Vannes on a rising tide with a light headwind. It was madness. I’d missed the skipper’s meeting but I got shouted instructions from another boat, ‘Just stay in the main current and make short tacks.’ That sounded simple enough but with all the other traffic tacks were often no more than a couple of boat lengths. The whole mess of sailing boats was exacerbated by tourists in motor yachts, snapping like crazy and not necessarily looking where they were going.