Thursday, 23 July 2015

No, Seriously!

One of the occasional frustrations of long distance cruising occurs when you find that the exhaustive spares inventory you carry doesn't include that special piece of your boat that has decided to play up. So you either have to find the piece where you are or often get it sent from home. Hence we presently find ourselves trying to get hold of a small and relatively simple piece of gadgetry that senses the position of the rudder, and without which our usually trusty autopilot refuses to work.

I was startled to find that the first chandlery I went into in Spain actually had one in stock. This, it should be said, was after a fairly lengthy mime and garbled Spanitch session, as I'd left our resident translator back on board. The bad news was that they wanted over 300 Euros for it. Cue a hasty retreat and reference to Ebay, where we bought one for £70.

Ah, if only that were the end of the story.

The seller agreed to send it to Gijon marina, a little further along the coast in Asturias. Sadly he didn't think to include “Spain” on the end of the address so the next thing we discovered was when we looked at the tracking and found that it was already on a plane and winging its way to ….. Australia. Nice one Royal Mail!

Still, we managed to actually speak to someone in the Australian Postal Service a couple of days later who helpfully told us that it had been efficiently intercepted on arrival and been redirected....... to Austria...... no, seriously!

They later wrote and told us that this actually might or might not be the case, but they and we couldn't find out unless and until it surfaces on some other country's postal tracking system, either Spain, Austria or back to the UK.... or maybe someone in Melbourne has despaired and kicked it into a corner of the sorting office.

So if you see it, please drop us a line.

Friday, 10 July 2015

Mainly Spain

Golfe du Morbihan
Our brief time in Brittany came to a close at the end of July. We sat out some unsettled weather inside the Golfe du Morbihan where, despite there being a lot of boats, it didn't seem too crowded and the two main islands inside the gulf made for good exploring and walking.

When the weather settled we headed out on a sunny morning towards La Rochelle after being spat out of the entrance on a 9kn tide and having set our course down the coast, we changed our minds after a few hours and altered course for Bilbao about 250 miles due south. We had low moment when Ralph the autopilot started to play up, and toyed with the idea of going back to France (such is the horror of having to steer continuously) but decided against it and pressed on. Dropping off the continental shelf, which can sometimes throw up an uncomfortable sea, was painless and although not much sleep was had, the crossing was otherwise uneventful. The mountainous coast of Cantabria duly appeared, and then disappeared into looming thunder clouds. The wind did the usual random shifts and we ended up motoring the last few hours through intermittent lightning into the spectacularly industrial port of Bilbao.

These 2 or 3 night passages seem always to be the most taxing. They're not long enough to settle into a proper routine and the motion and noise is usually too different to allow sensible amounts of sleep. The additional factor this time is that Beatrice, who contrarily tends to get a full and sound night's sleep on passage, expects our full attention and willingness to entertain her all day. It is a concern that despite encouragement, she doesn't seem to want/be able to play on her own for any length of time and it's certainly one that we'll have to work on for the longer passages.

So at some point in the second day I had a serious mid passage sense-of-humour-failure. However, as ever, arrival at a new landfall does wonders for the spirit and we dropped anchor next to some Danes, sat out the rest of the showery day then headed into Bilbao.

The Guggenheim - Bilbao
One of the reasons for choosing Bilbao was the Guggenheim museum there and we walked around it with open mouths, fully satisfied that it was worth the trip. It truly is a wonderful piece of architecture/sculpture. We weren't that interested in seeing the contemporary art collection and so ultimately didn't go in but both later regretted not having seen how the inside of the extraordinary space was made to work. Hey ho, we'll just have to come back.

The weather decided not to co-operate and we ended up being stuck in Bilbao for a week or so. It did give us chance to take Beatrice to the doctor as she'd developed a worrying spottiness and in contrast to the ineffectual French doctor we'd previously seen, this one seemed to be actually competent. We also met Ronald and Annett (the first eastern German cruisers we've met) on their very sleek self built catamaran. Ronald is an electrical engineer and has the boat rigged so that he can control all the steering and motors via a remote control unit.

We finally escaped to Castro Urdiales, only 7 miles or so to the West and arrived just as the wind suddenly decided that it needed some exercise and from almost nothing started to blow a healthy 25kn (what you get for being on a hot mountainous coast). No sooner had we got the anchor down than small children in (and out of) kayaks started floating past, disappearing out of the harbour, being chased by one guy, himself in a kayak. Jan could have used it as an excellent case study in how not to run a kayak activity.... we threw the dinghy over the side, slung the outboard on and gathered up the children and wreckage.

Finally a bath - Gijon
Hopping along this coast that is new to us, we are coming to the conclusion that apart from the Guggenheim, the reason for coming here is the scenery rather than the towns, which are unexciting at best. The scenery by contrast is something special. Rugged cliffs, beautiful beaches and seriously large mountains as a backdrop; one or two still with pockets of snow.

Santander provided a safe stop to sit out a northwesterly blow. We headed upriver to find the most sheltered spot, rescuing our dinghy on the way after it decided to go airborne when the gusts reached 40kn, and anchored in the first of two potential spots. I was just headed out in the dinghy to have a look at the other one when I saw the Ryanair jet coming into land directly over it at what seemed to be just a shade above mast height. We decided on balance to stay where we were.

After a few more days of westerlies, we began to feel a bit frustrated and decided to do a long hop to Gijon. It was a slight disappointment to be passing possibly the most spectacular bit of coast on what turned out to be a murky day, but we made up for it by hiring a car from Gijon and doing a breathtaking grand tour of the Picos de Europa.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

The dubious luxury of options

I always thought that setting off for a long trip the second time would be a lot easier, what with knowing so much more about what was involved practically. This has turned out to be at least only partially true.

Seal - River Exe 
On the one hand we are of course much more experienced, have a bigger, better equipped and more comfortable boat and almost inexplicably, considering how little work we've done in the intervening years, more funds in the bank. However on the flip side, there is somehow a lack of the absolute inevitability of our previous adventure. It was my dream and had the momentum of years of thought behind it. There was simply an unstoppable nature about it which over-rode any second thoughts or alternative options.

We have Beatrice now of course, who together with joy and love and wonder brings a layer of practical complication and emotional considerations, but the crew also brings her own helping of doubt and fear and plain old fashioned hormones into the equation.

We have been unsettled in one way or another for the last 10 years or so; never being in one place for more than about 18months. This does take its toll. The part of us that wants to settle somewhere increasingly fights with the part that wants to take advantage of Beatrice's early years to wander and adventure. Also for me there is the almost inevitable consequence of living a land bound existence that is Work.

Bread art
Conversely, Lucia feels slightly cheated out of being able to practice as an engineer and while living a life of leisure is undoubtedly pretty good for most of the time, the undeniable fact of it being an existence without much intrinsic value can begin to worm its way into wider considerations for the future.

Well, throw all that in a pot and simmer. What you get are some moments of serious reflection on whether we're doing the right thing. This can be an incendiary recipe when served with seasickness, lack of sleep and a pinch of fear, usually but not exclusively on the part of the crew.

The unlikely outcome of this is that I've probably been enjoying the trip so far rather less than Lucia as, in between outbursts, she's been fine, and I've been either racked with guilt at dragging her away afloat or braced for the next onslaught. There have been moments when I have been fairly convinced that we should head back at the end of the Summer and just do something else.

But then it passes...
On the way to the Channel Islands