Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The famous voyage of Alacrity "Hotfly" - Part III

Part 3 ‘In the Mediterranean’

Part 2 ended with us dipping our toes into the Mediterranean for the first time. Yes it had been hot throughout our transit of the Lateral and Midi canals, but the Med was bliss!
We turned west and made our first stop Canet, I made a note that it was very nice although it cost 15 francs (about 3€). You can tell what a tight budget we were on, even by 1975 prices that was not exactly a lot of money! The next day we beat along the coast and moored at Port Vendres where we had arranged a ‘Post Restant’, however there being no mail and after being asked for 20Ff (about 4€ !) for a single nights mooring we pressed on to a delightful little harbour called Collieur. I just recently heard that Patrick O’Brien, the acclaimed naval author used to live there.

Collieur was great and full of attractive young holidaymakers, it now being the height of the tourist season, the weather was glorious, we did not even bother to pump up the dinghy but swam ashore.

It now seems odd, but looking back through the log I read a rather anti French attitude in the pages again, this had cropped up from time to time, but I had filtered it out as I did not want to appear anti French, especially as I now love there country. I rather suspect that the French saw us as what we were; a pair of penniless British yachtsmen, and treated us accordingly. The log records that we crossed into Spain and despite being rather surprised to see the General Franco’s Guardia Civil armed like front line troops, we noted that it was really friendly and supplies were half the price of those back over the boarder. A note in the log states that ‘fags were 10p and Gin 60p , its easy to see what our priorities were!

We kept on westwards, sailing during the day and anchoring at night. At a place called Llansa we met an English couple with an Alacrity which they had trailed down from the UK, they were amazed that we had sailed that far, and we, as always were delighted to talk to ‘Brits’, back in the ‘70s , sailing as we were, one really felt that one was a long way from home.

Really this was just holiday sailing and very unlike the serious passages we had undertaken in the tidal waters of the Channel and the Atlantic coast of France, but we were starting to plan ahead for our big crossing from the mainland of Spain to the Balearic Islands. The jump off point was to be from Barcelona, and if I remember correctly, it was a distance of about 150Nm. We did not plan an arrival point, but just so long as we ended up at either Minorca Majorca or Ibiza we really didn’t care that much. However I’m getting ahead of myself, there were stormy waters ahead in the crewing department!
We had arrived in Barcelona and took up a mooring just off the old Club Nautica, the Club was really friendly even to a pair of scruffy individuals with little or no money to spend in their smart facilities. Somehow there always appeared to be someone in the bar to buy us a drink, and we were virtually camped out at the side of the Club swimming pool.

One day whilst washing the old alcohol stove I managed to drop it over the side of the boat, several hours of dredging with various hooks and so on I had to go and buy a new gas driven stove from a local hardware shop; what an improvement! Personally I would certainly rather take the risk of being blown into a low orbit and have properly cooked food to eat!

One day Roger asked if we could take the boat along to Sitges, a tourist resort 20 miles or so down the coast as his girlfriend was there on holiday. “No problem” say I, not suspecting that this was going to be a pivotal point in the trip. We moored in Sitges Marina (see picture below of me looking very slim) and spent a few days in the bars of Sitges allowing Sarah (Roger’s friend) to buy us ice cold Gin and tonics. The ‘bombshell’ arrived after a day or so when Roger, who had looked more and more unhappy, announced that he was going home!


This was a disaster for me, as although handling the boat at sea on my own was not a problem, getting back through the canal system would be very tricky. Coupled with this, as soon as Roger departed I was struck down with a terrible stomach bug, and remained in the baking hot cabin on the boat for two or three days unable to move! Eventually I recovered and feeling very weak sailed back to Barcelona. I hadn’t eaten for days and was looking and feeling very sorry for myself.

The first boat I saw as I re-entered Barcelona was sailed by some new friends we had made, and they fed me up and listened to my problems. I got back onto my comfy pontoon berth outside the Club Nautica again and set about phoning home to try to fix up a new crew.

My first call home went something like this,

“Hi Mum, howsitgoing”

“Oh very well dear, are you in Majorca?”

“No Mum I’m in Barcelona and Roger is coming home”

“Oh, so when will you be in Majorca then dear?”

“I dunno, I probably won’t be going as I can’t do the crossing on my own”

“Oh so how is Anne going to find you then”

By this time I was getting fairly confused, but it transpired that Anne had decided that she would come down and find me, Europe being a small place compared with Canada!

The conversation continued along the lines of,

“Mum, please tell me she hasn’t left yet!!”

“Ok dear, I’ll see if I can stop her”

And so she did!

Anyway in the end it turned out that she was leaving from Luton and flying to Mahon on the Island of Menorca, that evening. As she could not change her tickets at that late stage, she continued to Mahon caught a taxi straight down to the ferry port and only a matter of hours after my ‘phone conversation with my mother, stepped off the ferry in Barcelona!

My attractive, resourceful, charming and guitar playing new crew had arrived! I hardly need to say that things started to look considerably better! Anne Dewey’s first experience of yachting was to be a 150Nm open sea passage on an 18ft 6inch boat from Barcelona to Majorca, and I have to say that she did wonderfully.


Our first long passage in the Med was a fairly undramatic affair, with the usual mix of Mediterranean winds from all directions and from flat calm to 20kts. We made fair progress and used the faithful Selva outboard during the calm patches to keep up our speed. Having never made a landfall on a mountainous island before we were amazed to see Majorca from a distance of 60Nm or more! It was great to have something to aim for but with light winds it took us nearly 20 hours to get to an anchorage. We didn’t care though, the weather was great and we swam and fished. Fishing whilst a sea had become a major supplement to our diet, and we ended up cooking and eating all sorts of fish that found their way on to our hooks!

We made our landfall at Calla San Vicente, we had spotted a hotel on the shoreline in this little bay near the north eastern point of the island, and as we closed with land I aimed for the hotel lights in the increasing darkness until I could see the sandy bottom with my torch and anchored. We turned in for the night feeling pretty pleased with ourselves. The next morning however we awoke to see a large reef just awash about 20meters away dead in line between us and the hotel!

We stayed a couple of days before pushing on around point Formentera and picking anchorages where the we felt like it, life was good and I wish I was doing it all again!

Our final stop on Majorca was Puerta Polliensa, and we beached Hotfly for the first time in months. I wanted to check her bottom as we had noticed that barnacles and weed grew on the inflatable dinghy almost overnight in the warm Meddy water. It says a lot for the antifouling qualities of the now banned TBT that the boat was as clean as the day we left, and remained so for the entire trip.

For some reason that I cannot recall I had decided to do the crossing to Menorca at night, it may have been that the winds were steadier, and certainly that night it was a good strong breeze. It sticks in my mind that our navigation lights were powerful enough to ensure that we could be clearly seen by an alert lookout with 20/20 vision at a range of about 10 meters, so we had a policy of avoiding anything we saw at night. This particular night we got rather to close to a big inter-island ferry which rather shook us up, and then some time later in the night, (and it was pitch black, no moon) we missed a huge fishing pot buoy with long spar sticking out of the top by no more than a meter. I remember that we were flying along and it was quite rough with the occasional breaking sea, when this object appeared to rush past us, I nearly died of fright! Actually what I thought was that it was another blacked out yacht, it was only when it was astern of us that I could make out what it was.

By daybreak we were nearly at Menorca, and finally dropped our hook in a little inlet called Calla en Porta. Here we made lots of new friends and Anne started dropping by at some of the bars with her guitar to do some pickin’ ‘n’ singin’. She was fantastic with a endless repertoire of songs, every one loved her. I loved it as it brought a new and unexpected source of income! Additionally we started to get the sort of invites onto other yachts with had previously been closed to a crew of two scruffy young men!

We sailed from Calla en Porta, and slowly made our way around to Mahon and finally to Ciudadela, taking it easy and enjoying life. But time was rolling on and we knew we had to be back in UK waters by October at the latest, although it was difficult to imagine grey waters and shorts days whilst enjoying a Mediterranean summer.


We made plans to depart from Ciudadela and make landfall back at Barcelona, although as usual our passage planning was pretty open ended. The passage started with a fantastic southerly breeze and we were sailing as fast as some other yachts considerably larger than we were, we were in high hopes of a quick passage back to the mainland. I remember that we were surprised to be able to see Majorca as we sailed away to the north, the air was so clear, (we later heard that this was a bad omen for the weather). I handed over to Anne to helm, whilst I got some sleep as it was by now late evening and we were still roaring along and making great time.

Some hours later I was awoken by Anne calling down the hatchway that she thought I had better get up on deck! I remember two things, one that it was full moon and that the clouds were scudding across it at great rate, and secondly that the wind had really got up. Because we were on a broad reach Anne had not really noticed how things were developing until it all started to get somewhat out of hand! We got the main rolled down on the crude reefing system and chucked a few items of clothing into the ‘roll’ to pull the aft end of the boom up a bit and I crawled forward to get the jib off and set the storm jib, the first time I had ever used it.

The night became wild and the wind backed to the north east, when dawn broke it revealed big breaking seas under clear blue sky. We steered the best and most comfortable course we could but it was exhausting work, and by the evening I was starting to hallucinate due to exhaustion, it was imposable to eat or rest and I just am thankful that it was warm and the sun kept shining. The gale blew for about 24 hours and started to abate towards nightfall, about 36 hours after our departure from Ciudadella. By this time we also starting to come under the lee of the mainland, but by now we no idea where we were. I do however remember eating sardines out of the can with my fingers.

Amazingly we still had our faithful Metzella inflatable dinghy, on open sea passages we would tow this behind us as a bit of an insurance policy, but it had spent most of the day flying out on the end of its painter, spinning first one way then the other. The paddles of course were long gone.

We were too tired to find a safe harbour but could make out in the moonlight a wide beach ahead. In the now rapidly calming seas we shone the torch over the side until we could see the bottom and dropped the anchor over the side. The boat was so full of water that the floorboards were floating and all our provisions were in the bilges, the coffee had broken and added to the picture of disaster. We were so tired we collapsed onto our waterlogged sleeping bags and slept. The next morning when were awoken by the sound of voices outside the boat. It turned out that we had anchored off a popular swimming beach and we were now the centre of attraction to every kid that had an inflatable beach boat! All very surreal!

Somehow we had survived what we later found out was a Tremontana, this is a wind that blows much like the better know Mistral, when we finally made it to a port, the harbour master could not believe that our little boat had sailed through this weather, I remember him saying that even the fishing boats had stayed in port and that at one point it had reached Force 9.

In the next part we refuse a rescue from a French lifeboat in a gathering storm, and head back north through the canals to grey autumnal Atlantic seas.

No comments: