Offshore Yachtmaster and Competent Crew

People have been contacting us to ask if we are still alive as we have stopped blogging. Thank you for asking and yes we are.

But we have been learning. Every spare minute we were learning. Heidi in preparation for a weeks sailing course in English and Neill for his Yachtmaster Offshore exam.

Last week we left Artemis in the marina at Santa Cruz and flew to Seville before taking the bus to Ayamonte on the Spanish south coast. We were here with the boat in September and it was great to see Debbie and Shane from the Go-n-Sail sailing school again.

On Sunday we began an intensive week of sail training. Heidi was aiming for a competent crew certificate. Most people do this at the start of their sailing career and not after 3000 miles of sailing experience. But for most people, it is not the first course they have ever done in English!

Shane with the “man over board” buoy

Neill had three days of brushing up on a variety of themes with chief instructor Shane Cole and then the exam. The exam was over two days with a good dose of night navigation and “stress” situations. There is no set material and the examiner can ask you to perform any tasks and expect answers to any questions even remotely connected to sailing a yacht. At one point, while Neill was below decks and Heidi at the wheel, with a commercial fishing boat heading straight for us, he threw a buoy overboard to simulate a person falling overboard. As we reached for the engine starter he said “engine out of order” so we were left to sail back to the buoy and pick it up.

By the end of Day 2, even simple questions were getting harder as the brain siezed up. Luckily Richard – the examiner – was kind enough to offer a ten minute “brain reset pause” when it was needed and Heidi was on hand with “de-stress chocolate”.

We both passed! Neill’s summary – “the hardest exam I have done since I left the army thirty years ago.”

So now we are a Yachtmaster and a Competent Crew. We will keep you informed if our sailing has improved.

La Gomera biking

We are anchored off a harbour on the island of La Gomera in the Canary Islands. The anchorage is well protected by a 400 meter cliff so a great place to hide from the north wind that is currently blowing and pushing the swell in front of it. Living under such a huge cliff takes a bit of getting used to. Norway feeling!

Yesterday we used the dinghy to get our bikes across to the harbour, pulled the bike bags up the harbour wall with a rope and then put the two bikes together. Just as the first rays of sunlight touched the top of the cliff, we were on our way – once again mountain bikers.

La Gomera is the top of a volcano and so from sea level the only way is up – seriously up. The road out of town climbs continuously as it passes the oasis like farming steps that climb the valley side. Eventually you leave the last house behind but keep climbing through tunnels and round hairpin bends until you are eight hundred meters above the valley and looking down on to the rooves far below.

Slowly we left the desert like cactuses and palms and entered an area of upland moors with ruined dry stone walld, a little like Scotland but with the occasional palm in a wind protected nook. Some time later we reached the wine growing zone and at one thousand meters above sea level found a bar for a (well deserved) coffee.

The next vegetation zone was the laurel forest. This looks and feels like a rain forest. Dense undergrowth and moss covered trees interweved with mist and drizzle. It was hard to believe that sand and cacti were only two and a half hours behind us.

In the forest there is a visitors center so we sheltered under their porch to eat our sandwiches and then continued along an unpaved track. I mentioned that I was out of practice on slippery wet trails and within a minute had slid sideways landing hard on my hip and breaking my helmet. Luckily I was not badly damaged and my bike was OK so we continued.

We once again cycled up hill and at just under 1500 meters we reached the highest point on the island to be rewarded with mist, drizzle and no view at all. We took a photo of us next to the sign, put on all the clothes we had with us and set off back downhill folowing a mixture of trails and roads.

From the top back to the boat was nearly all downhill which was just as well with all the clothes we had on. On one short uphill section we had to take at least the top layer off.

We passed a small village full of craft shops, cafes and tourists where we think we spotted the local “Tyrol mountain guide”. We also visited a statue dedicated to the unique whistling language that is still used on the island. It is on the side of one of the huge gorges across which the locals can communicate by whistling.

The last eight hundred meters downhill we followed the road at high speed before stopping in town to strip back down to shorts and tricot.

I am sure I learned about climatic zones in school but actually seeing them all stacked on top of each other is much more interesting and far more fun.

I don’t want to live in a cave

The last few nights we were anchored off a remote beach on the island of La Gomera in the Canary Islands. The beach was pebbly and backed by a cliff of volcanic rock. In the cliff were caves and in these caves people were living. Initially we thought that the inhabitants had no other choice but a search in the Internet suggested that people were here taking “time out” from civilisation. They come here to enjoy their life far away from every day things.

When we rowed to the shore and went for a walk we passed a few caves and also a few people camped out in the undergrowth. The standard equipment seemed to be a sleeping mat and something to cook on. Clothes were optional.

A nice cave looking out to sea

I thought that we were minimalists on our ten meter long boat but these people have taken things much further. Respect.

But I have decided, I don’t want to live in a cave. I love our mattress, our oven and our solar electricity too much. I also enjoy having a toilet and a sink. I enjoy switching the light on and checking my emails.

I also enjoying buying water and provisions in a harbour and filling the cupboards without having to carry everything along a rocky path from the neighbouring village.

But seeing how these people survive reminded me in what luxury we live, here on Artemis

Antares Charts

Where ever we sail we need charts to navigate. Mostly we use digital charts because they are so much cheaper and take up far less space. Often it is a problem to find detailed and up to date charts. In Scotland that was not a problem.

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There are official charts of Scotland which are very good and then there are the Antares Charts. These are extremely detailed, extremely accurate charts created by Antares Charts.

The people behind these charts (Bob Bradfield and friends) go and do really detailed surveying and then publish the results for a ridiculously low price.

Using these charts, we were able to visit some amazing anchorages we would never have ventured in to otherwise. There is no way we would have dared enter Loch Tarbert on Jura without them.

If you are planning on sailing the Scottish Islands these charts are a “must have”.

El Teide – Volcano biking

We arrived in Tenerife and discovered it is home to the third largest volcano in the world – El Teide. So of course we thought “sounds like a great bike ride.” We were in Santa Cruz at the north end of the island and El Teide is in the south. We checked on buses and rental cars before realising that the easiest solution was just to sail south to Los Christianos and then cycle from there.

We checked in the Internet and discovered that the port authorities in Los Christiaos apparently don’t really like visiting yachts but we found an anchorage nearby that would work as a start point. In steadily rising wind and swell we sailed south and were very glad to round the end of the island and get out of the waves. That night we “enjoyed” winds of about 25 knots. The wind generator was generating over 100 watts but sleep was difficult.

In the morning the wind was still as strong so we decided to find a marina to leave the boat in while we went cycling. We ran a few miles downwind and called the marina to be told “No full up. Try the next one.” A bit further downwind and we were told the second marina was also full and anchoring forbidden in the bay. At this point the first marina called us on the radio and said that anchoring was possible. So we turned round and fought our way back against wind and waves. Once we got there no one knew anything about anchoring and told us there was absolutely no place for us in these conditions.

Max suggested we ring marina two again and ask again. There answer was “No problem. Of course we have space!” I no longer even try to understand marinas. To “escape” from the visitors pontoon we needed three people pushing the boat and a dinghy pulling the bow round against the wind. Then a quick run back downwind and we tied up in the second marina. All day to achieve an effective seven miles!

Bikes built up and ready to go

The next day we were up and putting our bikes together under a street light long before the sun appeared. A quick breakfast and then we set off through the empty town and headed up in to the hills. After 220 meters of climbing we stopped for a drink of water and thought “Great! One tenth done.” Not so motivating. A few hours later it was 1100 meters and we were half way. We had left the desert behind us and were now in the wine and potato growing area. The clouds were still above us and it was warm work climbing steeply.

Suddenly we heard a loud bang and both felt “something”. Heidi said “I have been shot” and I replied “so have I.” A brain dead hunter had shot at a grouse flying in front of the road. He missed the bird but hit both of us in the shoulders. Luckily we were far enough away that the shot just broke the skin. We were very glad we were not hit in the eyes. I shouted abuse at the idiot in English and German but he just waved. About 200 meters further on we saw and stopped a police car and told him. He left with squealing tyres.

Eventually we reached a village with a restaurant and retanked with good local food. Shortly after we saw the first glimpse of blue sky and at 1700 meters we came out of the clouds in to sunlight and a deep blue sky.

The two of us cycling up towards the crater wall.

We passed a singer from Belarus playing with his drone and asked him for an aerial picture of us cycling up hill. Next day they were in my email inbox. Thank you Sasha.

By 2100 meters we were well above the clouds and looking down on to them. A great feeling to have cycled from the sea to the edge of the volcano crater and being in a pine forest high above the clouds below.

By now it was late and we needed to turn round if we wanted to be back at the boat before dark. But we really wanted to have a look inside the crater so we continued on to a hotel in the middle of the caldera and spent the night there at 2150 meters above sea level. We had now cycled 2500 meters uphill. Surrounded by lava fields, we watched the sun sink and then immediately moved to the open fire in the bar as outside felt freezing.

At three in the morning we opened the window to look at more stars than either of us had ever seen before. The lack of light and the high altitude make for an amazing view.

Sunset in the caldera

Not surprisingly we enjoyed a lie in before breakfast but after that we were once again in the saddle and once again heading up hill to the bottom station of the cable car which is the highest point you can reach by bike (2356 meters). We enjoyed watching thousands of tourists trying to find a parking place for their rental cars, took a few pictures and the cycled back down in to the crater. The rock formations, lava fields and strange plants all under a cloudless deep blue sky made it feel like we were cycling across another planet

From the crater wall it was all downhill. The first four hundred vertical meters were great fun – warm, sunny and long curving tarmac. Once we entered the clouds we both agreed that we needed to put on everything we had with us. So we wrapped up in tricots leggings, armlings, jackets and water proof over clothing before we rolled the remaining 1700 vertical meters back to the boat.

After 120 kilometers and three thousand meters of climbing, we were back at the boat with another great adventure behind us.

Our routes are at gpsies.com. Links from https://neill.blogger.de/stories/2704134/

Sailing Europe

europeMapWhen we left Ayamonte in Spain, we also left Europe and set off in to the Atlantic. From Scotland to Ayamonte we have sailed about 2840 nautical miles (5255km). A complete map of our journey is at gpsies.com.

This is the simplified version without the unscheduled turns to cross traffic separation schemes or the loops when a tack didn’t work as hoped. It has the advantage that it doesn’t have millions of data points.

Time

This morning we were listening to the Scorpions “still loving you” with its opening line “Time. It needs time”. This led to a discussion about time. In the Canaries we are an hour different to Spain and Germany but the same as Portugal and an hour off GMT. And tonight the clocks change from summer time to “normal” which changes everything (except GMT).

Sunset happens no matter what the clock says

But the great thing is that when we are at sea it all becomes irrelevant. The time is whatever we set the ships clock to. For the voyage from Spain to the Canary Islands I decided to set it to GMT just because it makes my navigation calculations easier. Manx mean time would have been as good.

Irrespective of what the clock says, we eat when we are hungry and sleep when we are tired. At night, when sailing, we have a watch rota but often we let the next person sleep longer if we are still wide awake – or the stars are so beautiful – or there are dolphins at play.

The last few months we have had a few “appointments”but mainly of the “get there a few days either side of Tuesday” or “see you in October” type. The “10:15 on Monday morning” type don’t exist and won’t work as a sailor.

At sea time is only important for log entries. Everything else is timeless. Just another example of the freedom you win when you leave “civilisation”.

La Graciosa (reloaded)

Last December I was in La Graciosa in the Canary Islands and thought it would be nice to stop off again on our way south. As you could read in my last post, we were planning on making a big curve to the north and west but … what are plans.

Having anchored off the island, we slept long and deep before a good breakfast. Max was so impressed by the clear, blue water that he jumped over the side and checked the state of our sink drain outlet.

You are not allowed to anchor where we were (in a national park) without a permit – which obviously we didn’t have. You aren’t allowed to anchor at all without permission from the port authority. And you can’t use the marina without booking online three days ahead in a system which you need to register for weeks ahead. Neill was worried how we were going to avoid fines and get to stay anywhere.

We motored the two miles to the marina and tied up on an empty pontoon. A security guard pointed out that we weren’t registered but let us stay and sort it out the next day with the harbourmaster. The harbourmaster was brilliant. He registered us in the system and then booked us in for two nights. It obviously worked as we received an email confirming tne reservation.

La Graciosa is a relaxing backwater. The roads are sand and there are a few laid back bars on the sea front. A few streets back the”city” stops and the desert begins. Near the sea there is sand and above that there is ash. There are tiny stunted plants and the only animals are geckos. The perfect place to stop and recover.

Last year Neill had hired a bike to see the island but this year we had our mountain bikes on board. Max hired a 29 inch MTB and the three of us set out along the sand piste. First stop was a volcano dome that we walked up, then a beach that looks like it was designed extra to be a film backdrop – until you see the signs warning of rogue waves and the memorial to father and daughter dragged out to sea.

The roads are all sand and the only vehicles Land Rovers. They ferry the tourists once around the island for €25 so together we saved €75 🙂

We visited a stone arch hollowed out by the sea and the tiny village we anchored off when we arrived. We then completed the circuit and invested some of the money we had saved in beer. That evening Heidi once again created a great meal still using the provisions we had shipped back in Spain.

Our track is at https://www.gpsies.com/map.do?fileId=bxkxgginasprlqcq

Since Ayamonte our mast has been creaking and we can not see why. We hoisted Heidi to the top of the mast to see if she could spot the problem. While she was up there Max stepped off the boat which rocked it “a little bit”. At the top the “little bit” was a few meters. Heidi was very “not amused”.

Spain to the Canary Islands

At the end of my last blog post, I was hoping to be writing this from Madeira and here I am writing from La Graciosa in the Canary Islands. As Heidi quite rightly pointed out “planning and sailing are incompatible”.

We left Ayamonte early in the morning with a forecast promising plenty of wind from the north west and a two to three Meter swell. Perfect conditions for a quick crossing to Madeira. As we crossed the bar at the end of the river we were met with a south west wind which was exactly against us so we began tacking tnrough the short steep swell. The rest of the day nothing changed. We all got well shaken and Max was queasy with sea sickness but still managed to catch a fish.

By the next morning the wind had changed to the north west and we were making good progress in the right direction. Our last sight of land had been a glimpse of a lighthouse at Faro the previous evening but at about three o’clock we passed a buoy anchored at a depth of over one thousand meters. This was on the charts and gave us an exact position.

The second and third days were the cruisers dream. Wind enough from the correct direction and a light swell. We dried out everything, Heidi made delicious food and the boat sailed its self. Even Max was able to leave his bunk to catch another fish and Neill could take relatively accurate sun and moon sights with his sextant to fix our position.

On the evening of the third day we saw a cold front approaching with cumulo-nimbus clouds heaped up and a long black wall below. We dropped the main sail and furled the foresail as precautions and then sat and waited.

As soon as the front reached us things became less comfortable. The wind immediately increased to 25 knots and the swell began to build up. We could lie down but no one could sleep. The cockpit was regularly full of water and every few minutes a wave swept over the coach roof with some leaking in to the battery box which we had to continuously bail. It became impossible to hold our course and we turned and ran before the waves heading more south than west.

Just before first light on the fourth day the AIS system warned of an approaching ship. Eventually we saw her lights when we were on a wave crest. Both AIS and our eyeballs suggested a collision course so we called her up per VHF radio. When we asked if she had seen us visually or on radar we were told “We can’t see anything. There are just big waves out there.” To which we answered “We know. We are in amongst those waves”. Heidi shone a torch on to the tiny bit of foresail we were carrying and eventually they saw it and turned to pass behind us. Their final comment on tne radio “Have a nice trip. Enjoy sailing!”

After breakfast we tried setting a bit more sail and turning in to the waves back on to our original course. All we achieved was a complete battering so we went back to the small bit of foresail and running south. Heidi lost her grip while standing in the heads (bathroom) and shot out through the closed door, landing on the floor and looking at a surprised Max and Neill. Neill lost his balance with a jug of water in his hand and bounced off the chart table before landing on tne floor wet and with a cracked rib. Nobody lef the cabin without being clipped to the boat. At midday we reduced the foresail to “nothing” and were still running almost due south at five knots driven by the wind and waves.

At three in tbe morning of day five the wind had dropped slightly and the swell was a managable two to three meters. We were 220 miles from Madeira but just as far from La Graciosa to the south. We decided to continue south to be sure of meeting our friends in Tenerife next week.

All the fifth and sixth day we sailed south as the wind slowly dropped. Finally the only sail that the wind allowed was our light cruising chute and even with this we were only making two to three knots. At least we could dry everything out and sort out the chaos that had accumulated during the previous days. Neill could also finally take some accurate sun and moon sights.

On the morning of the seventh day we could see the island of Alegranza ahead of us. The wind was against us though so we tacked slowly backwards and forwards making very slow progress. Finally at six in tne evening, with only eighteen miles to go, the wind died completely. We cooked and ate dinner, drank a bottle of wine and watched the sun setting and the changing colours of the sea, sky and islands. At eight there was still no wind so we motored in under a full moon and anchored off a tiny village on La Graciosa.

Seven days and 688 miles of adventure. There were some great moments and some not so great parts but we are looking forward to our next long trip.

River Guadiana

From Praia de Luz we sailed through the night and all of the following day to the River Guadiana which forms the border between Portugal and Spain in this part of the world. We reached the mouth of the river after dark and had to follow the buoyed channel. Luckily Neill knows the river very well having spent four weeks based here during his sailing school days. With Heidi on the tiller, Max adjusting sail and Neill navigating, we ghosted our way up river with the Spanish coast on our right and Portugal to the left. The tide had just changed and, with the current pushing us and the last wind pulling, we just managed to reach Ayamonte before dropping anchor and sleeping for fourteen hours.

The next day we motored the half mile in to the marina and moored next to go-n-sail’s “El Rubicon” yacht on the pontoon. That day, with lots of help from Debbie and Shane (the owners of go-n-sail), we got our liferaft sent off to be serviced on the other side of Spain. There then followed two days of adventure holiday with stand up paddle boarding on the beach and a mountain bike ride in to the largely empty interior. We have learned to cycle early here in Spain so we were on our way an hour before sunrise and finished by midday.

Our track is at https://www.gpsies.com/map.do?fileId=qmisovfalrqxjrsq

Ayamonte marks the end of our “European tour”. We have now sailed nearly 3000 nautical miles from Scotland to here. Now we are off out in to the Atlantic – “island hopping” with our next destination being Madeira over 500 miles away. We have thetefore spent the last days ensuring that Artemis is as ready as can be. The worst job was definitely cleaning the blue hull while floating around in the dinghy. One of the best was stocking up with irish cream liquer at Lidl. Checking the rigging, moving the anchor off the bow in to the locker, servicing all the winches, reinstalling the liferaft and buying ten days food fell some where in between.

At the last minute a student cancelled with the sailing school so Max took the chance and completed his RYA competent crew course. He now has a piece of paper that confirms what we already knew – he is a good sailor. Heidi and Neill took advantage of being alone, a spring tide and a following wind to sail 20 miles up river to anchor off two villages in Portugal and Spain joined by the only “International zipline”. The wind was from the south so, with lots and lots of jibes, we sailed all the way. It is still amazing that you can sail an ocean going boat so far up river and be sat at anchor surrounded by land and the hills.

Back in Ayamonte, we continued our preparations and also took an afternoon to try a Parasailor sail out in the river. This is a huge downwind sail that kept the boat moving even in light winds. We were so impressed that we ordered one and should take delivery in the Canary Islands.

By Saturday we were ready to leave. But the weather had other plans. Hurricane Leslie was heading straight from Madeira to Lisbon where it arrived as the strongest storm since 1872. We tied everything down and waited for the outlying winds to pass over us. On the Sunday we caught the ferry across the river to Portugal for a Cappuccino and now we are enjoying the sun and writing our blogs.

Hopefully next time you here from us we will be in Madeira in a week or so.