My arrival in Alghero has proved to be a most fortunate, if unintended addition to my itinerary. Once I had refuelled Tatsu, I enquired at the fuel pontoon if there might be an available berth somewhere for a few days. In a trice, there was a small RIB alongside and I was ushered off the fuel pontoon and a short distance to a corner of the marina where a small restaurant and two pontoons were overlooked by the Tower of Sant’Elmo and the sixteenth century walls of the old town of Alghero.
Had I been familiar with the town, I could not have picked a better spot to locate Tatsu. Here I breakfast in the cockpit as the morning sun glows orange on the domes and towers of the ancient Porta di Sant’Elmo. A two minute walk away are the narrow cobbled streets of the ancient port, their uneven pebbles polished by centuries of pedestrian traffic, here and there giving way to piazzas once frequented by the masters of vessels in the port, now occupied by numerous restaurants. This part of Alghero is most impressive.
To the North of the walled town, the modern Alghero stretches around the bay, a fringe of golden beach hosting numerous beach bars and restaurants popular with Italian tourists. The port also has a fleet of tourist boats which are very popular, taking tourists out to visit caves and grottos on the nearby headlands.
The first issue to sort out once I had caught up on sleep was a faulty seacock. One of the thirteen ball valves fitted to Tatsu’s hull, allowing the passage of water either in or out of the boat, had become very light to the touch in operation – a sure sign that there was something amiss inside. The replacement of such a valve is straighforward – the old one is unscrewed and a new one screwed into place however, the complicating factor is that in the interim period, between the removal of the old valve and the fitting of the new, seawater will be entering the boat like a fire hose!
It is possible to replace a valve with a boat in the water but would require me to dive under the boat and push a specially made rubber through-hull plug into the valve inlet. This would then allow me to disconnect the seacock inside the boat, without water gushing in. That’s the theory anyway. In practice, such tasks rarely go according to plan. The valve is difficult to reach, would require a special tool to remove it, would most likely require several visits to the chandlery to buy parts and while considering this, I could foresee a multitude of scenarios where complications might arise.
No. It was far safer and more practical, to have the boat lifted and do the job on dry land.
Alghero is unusual in that it is a fairly large port, but does not have a boat lift. There is no boat yard to speak of, just an assortment of small quayside cranes, most of which are former mobile cranes no longer fit to be driven on the road. And it was one such crane which lifted Tatsu out of the water a week after my arrival.
To say I was nervous would be an understatement. The crane itself did not inspire confidence. But I need not have worried. The slings were soon positioned correctly and in a matter of minutes, Tatsu was balanced on the edge of the quayside and chocked securely, so the work could commence.
This is the first time she has been out of the water since the major surgery of last year and it was reassuring to see that the new Coppercoat was performing well. The hull was scrubbed clean and the propellor polished. The old hull fitting was cut out and a new through-hull bronze pipe fitted, together with a new seacock and accompanying plumbing. As is the way in the Mediterranean, nothing was rushed and so the sun was setting when at last the elderly crane wheezed into life and lowered Tatsu back into the water.
With autumn well on its way, we have seen some impressive thunderstorms here in the last week and rain of biblical proportions. This, together with the prospect of a new language to learn, a new culture and country to explore and a berth that will make an excellent winter home, I have decided to winter here and continue in the spring, navigating clockwise around Sardinia to explore the coast of Corsica, transit the Strait of Bonifacio and some of the Eastern coast of Sardinia, from where a passage East across the Tyrrhenian Sea to Italy’s Amalfi coast beckons.
The departure from Cartagena went smoothly. There was not even a breath of wind. I untied the bow lines and went aft to slip the stern lines. We motored out smoothly in the half light. The sea was still. Barely a ripple. Out, beyond the breakwater, where the ripples in the sea became wavelets, we motored into the sunrise. It was effortless and I even had time to rig the camera for a selfie!
By lunchtime the fair winds had kicked in and we were sailing under full canvas, with the Hydrovane steering. Tatsu’s wind steering gear, the Hydrovane, is worth its weight in gold. So efficient is it that it could almost be considered cheating to say that you are a single handed sailor, if you have one fitted! It is entirely mechanical and uses no electricity. It doesn’t eat anything and never needs to go to the bathroom.
For sixteen glorious hours Tatsu sailed on the wind, guided by the Hydrovane. I relaxed on the bow, sitting on deck with my feet over the side, being washed occasionally with warm seawater. Into the night we sailed and though there was not a great deal to do, I could not contemplate sleep. There is the hourly log entry, plotting our position on a paper chart too, in case we lose GPS and sails to trim, tea to drink…
In the early hours of the next morning, the wind faded to nothing and Tatsu was left wallowing in the slop of waves that the wind had generated and then abandoned. It was time to furl away the foresail, reign in the mainsail and motor.
No sailor likes to motor. The ‘Iron Sail’ the ‘Donkey” is the reluctant choice of a sailor who can make no forward progress to his destination under canvas. It is a necessary evil. After the hum of the wind in your sails and the chuckling of water rushing past the hull, the clattering cacophony of a diesel engine is most unwelcome. And now the wind steering gear is redundant. Instead, the electronic Autohelm takes over.
And so for most of the second day Tatsu motored in the absence of wind as we passed the island of Formentera, heading north west to pass Mallorca. As the day wore on, a gentle headwind began to strengthen. It was forecast to be around fifteen knots and so it was at around five that evening. With the sun still high in the sky and the temperature around thirty four degrees, it seemed unlikely that anything unpleasant could happen…
But within eleven minutes a strong headwind built up and we were heading into big waves. The forecast had significantly underestimated the strength of the winds and very quickly we had twenty five to thirty knots of wind against us. One minute I had been contemplating what I might cook for dinner. The next I was standing on a wildly pitching deck, putting the second reef in the mainsail, before wedging myself into a corner of the cockpit, unable to stand up due to the movement of the boat. This was forecast to last until nine that evening, but persisted until one the following morning. And there was worse to come…
In the early hours, the wind shifted further to the east, effectively blowing us onto the coast of Mallorca and at the same time, the two main GPS units aboard Tatsu indicated they had lost satellite contact. A third spare unit, with an independent power source was also unable to acquire any satellites. It was an interesting time, because we were in close proximity to a large chemical tanker and not only had I lost information about my position, but the computer on board Tatsu which transmits her location to other ships was unable to function without a GPS signal.
I have never before suffered this loss of GPS and so to lose it in the hours of darkness, on a lee shore, in a big seaway with traffic nearby was a sobering prospect.
There was little that could be done and I realised that I had been awake for well over forty hours, so I decided to turn to starboard into open sea and gently motor while I got some sleep. Concerned that I should not stay below decks in case of a collision, I slumped in the cockpit close to the wheel and dozed.
By dawn I had amassed around four hours sleep in instalments and felt much improved. The wind had died down and the sea state was lessening. I shook out the reefs from the previous night and turned off the engine.
And that is how the best day of sailing I have ever experienced commenced.
It is a part of the paradox of sailing, that the very best moments can precede the very worst. That from chaos and calamity, calmness and serenity can be borne. And of course, the opposite is true.
In any case, the previous fourteen hours were quickly forgotten, as the seas flattened and the wind settled. It is true, the wind was not in my favour, but the art of sailing to windward by tacking to and fro had never been so pleasant. We creamed along at six knots (that is fast for a yacht of Tatsu’s dimensions!) and closed on the coast of Mallorca, where many charter yachts were hugging the coast, then tacked and headed back out to sea. As the afternoon wore on, the wind shifted and we able to run parallel to the coast of Mallorca for some distance. The Hydrovane took over the duty of steering and I was able to go below to the galley and prepare dinner. The sea state was gentle, the wind consistent and I enjoyed a leisurely dinner, sitting in the cockpit, as the coastline of Mallorca slowly trundled by.
South of Menorca, we turned eastwards to head across towards Sardinia. The wind died down and once again we were motoring on a nearly flat sea. A couple of fishing boats passed by on their way home and then the radar and AIS systems showed that there was no further traffic for the next twenty miles. I took the opportunity to get some sleep, making the now familiar sleeping arrangements in the cockpit and managed the best sleep for the whole passage, around six hours in total.
At dawn the next morning there was little in the way of wind. The grib file I had managed to download the previous night off the coast of Mallorca showed that the promised northerlies were weakening and a surge of easterlies were going to strengthen during the next twenty four hours. This was not good news, as my course for the next thirty six hours would be only a little south of east. The winds also strengthened around the south west tip of Sardinia around the time of my arrival and that would prove uncomfortable.
Furthermore, I had another issue. After an hour of tweaking the sails, praying for some wind, the engine had to go back on and it seemed likely that it would be on for the whole day. I had already used more than half the fuel I had available. If I had another twenty four hours of motoring ahead of me and then I met strong headwinds rounding the southern tip of Sardinia, I’d be in a spot of bother. After a great deal of time looking at charts and pilot books, I decided the best course of action was to turn thirty degrees to port and head for Alghero on the North West coast of Sardinia. This meant that if the easterly winds strengthened, I’d be able to sail the course. I could refuel in Alghero and then, depending on the wind, navigate clockwise or anticlockwise around Sardinia to head for Sicily.
All day we motored on a flat sea until a little after five in the evening when a breeze rose up. It was from the north and most welcome. In short order I had the genoa unfurled and the engine off and for seven hours we sailed at a modest pace, towards Alghero.
Shortly before eleven that night, as I neared the coast, the GPS signal was lost. This was immensely frustrating, as it seemed the satellites chose the worst times to be absent. Shortly afterwards the wind died and the engine went back on. I had hoped to keep sailing and reserve the last few hours of motoring to get us into the marina. I tried to make out navigational lights against the confusion of street lights on the land, with no luck. It was a tense few hours but eventually, shortly before five in the morning, the GPS signal returned and a fresh breeze sprang up from the north east. Admittedly, that was the very direction we were heading, but having the engine off and sailing was a fantastic feeling. I’d been awake since five the previous morning, but as we raced through the water at seven knots, tacking back and forth as we slowly neared the harbour, I felt more alive than I have ever felt.
The dawn lit up the hills of Sardinia as Tatsu charged along in a good breeze and I started to make a pilotage plan for entering the harbour. Whilst it’s fairly straightforward, for some reason, they have constructed a fish farm right outside the entrance to the harbour and I was very keen not to become entangled with it, as this sort of thing does not make a very good first impression.
Finally, the engine had to go back on. There was no room to tack back and forth as I got closer to the harbour and mid morning, there was a deluge of leisure boats leaving the harbour for the day. Big charter catamarans, small motor boats, fast RIBs, tourist boats, all charging out of port and Tatsu motoring in. It was like driving eastbound along the westbound M4 Motorway on a Friday evening!
I had all manner of plans for what to do if we ran out of fuel on this final stage. If I could anchor, I would do so and buzz the final distance to the fuel pontoon in the dinghy to get twenty litres in a jerry can. If it was too deep to anchor, I would pile on the sail and go back to tacking, though I suspect that would have caused carnage with the outbound traffic! But I needn’t have worried. Tatsu made it to the fuel pontoon without missing a single beat!
My joy at having made it was only slightly dampened when I found the price of diesel was €1.69 a litre!
We arrived on the fuel pontoon at 11.30am, five days and four and a half hours after departing Cartagena, with 569 nautical miles on the log.
I have downloaded more GRIB files in the last week that I have in the last four years! These little data files contain the latest weather reports and enable me to run my next passage in real time through the forecast, using a clever piece of software. And it seems that the wind gods have granted my wish, for the North Easterlies we’ve had for the last three weeks slowly fade out on Thursday night and a gentle wind from the South West is evident by Friday morning.
This is excellent news, as I was starting to think I would have to bash into the wind for the first thirty six hours of my passage. But no. I suspect I will have the engine on anyway, as there will not be enough wind to push Tatsu along at any speed, but motorsailing with the wind on your starboard quarter beats bashing into wind and waves any day.
My departure is little later than I had hoped for – a problem with my life raft which somehow turned a forty eight hour service into a four month saga (I will spare you the details!) delayed me significantly – but now I have just three days to prepare for it. And there is a lot to do.
The new life raft, dubbed ‘Fat Boy’ after I managed to wrestle it on board, is five kilos heavier and much taller than the previous model. It required a new cradle, which took most of last week to modify and fit. Now engine checks must be carried out, the decks cleared, fuel and water tanks filled, the bow ladder removed and the anchor refitted into the roller… a plethora of tasks on deck and down below, must be done to convert Tatsu from a home to a functional sailing vessel. And there is shopping to do!
The next passage will be a non-stop sail to Licata in Sicily, if everything goes to plan. It will take me between seven and ten days and is almost exactly ten times longer than the longest single handed passage I have ever sailed before. Those interested will be able to see my live progress on AIS by clicking here.
A great many people I know have in the last year or so, for a variety of reasons, sold their yacht and turned to land travel in the form of a camper van or caravan. From the perspective of living aboard one, it is not entirely misguided to compare a yacht with a camper van. Many of the plumbing and electrical fittings used in camper vans can be found aboard the average yacht. The electrical systems are much the same, solar panels, water pumps, battery switchgear and even some furnishings are very similar.
It could be said that neither work particularly well in the other’s environment though and week four of our spell in the yard started to bring this home. You cannot for example, run a tap whilst you are on the hard, as the water runs down the plug hole and directly out through the hull onto anyone who happens to be standing below.
It was force of habit while my brain was engaged in other matters which saw me on two occasions, upturn the washing up bowl of soapy water into the galley sink when I had finished washing up. The first time was after lunch and it was only when some ten minutes later I descended the ladder to find the area beneath Tatsu was wet, that I realised what I had done. The galley sink empties through the hull directly above the hole that was cut to remove the fuel tank but thankfully no one was working on it at the time! What should be done is the bowl must be carefully lifted out of the sink and carried up on deck, over the rail, down the ladder and across the yard where it can be poured down a drain.
The average yacht does not make a good caravan and by week four of our stay in the yard, the appeal was wearing thin. Morale was boosted by daily trips to the workshop, where Nacho the Welder was creating the new tank. A perfectionist who will not be rushed, Nacho assembled the tank with a few spot welds to ensure everything fitted perfectly. He then seam welded each joint using Tungsten Inert Gas (TIG) welding equipment. This is an common technique for welding stainless steel, as it uses less heat than other types of welding and there is less risk of heat deformation. It was a joy to watch him work.
Once the tank was assembled it was partially filled with water and pressure tested, using a custom made plate to seal it. Having passed the pressure test, it was degreased and encapsulated in two layers of woven fibreglass cloth in epoxy resin, with a final coating of flowcoat to ensure it was kept waterproof.
I descended the ladder on Wednesday morning of week four to find the freshly finished tank on a fork lift pallet beneath Tatsu’s bow. By mid afternoon that day the tank was fitted and connected and I was able to discharge thirty litres of fuel from the reserve tank into it. The sound of that fuel glugging into the new tank as it was decanted, was very satisfying.
The next day Rai commenced the process of laminating up the hull. The section of hull that had been removed had been lounging on a fork lift pallet since its liberation and I had assumed that it would be used in the repair, but in fact this was never the plan. After a thorough clean and degrease, it was coated with a mould release agent and used as a mould to lay up a thin panel which would sit at the back of the aperture and form the base on which subsequent layers would be laid. This thin panel was just five millimetres thick and would match up with the edges of the aperture which had previously been tapered to the same thickness.
After a great deal of preparation, the panel was fitted in place and held with an epoxy based adhesive. A layup of fibreglass weave was wetted all around the joint and this soon hardened to a solid, smooth finish.
Rai and his colleague then set to work on a well timed and executed process of laying four technical layers, each bigger than the last. Each of these layers consisted of a composite sandwich of four layers of matting, featuring alternating woven rovings and mat.
Slowly the repair took on the shape of the hull as each layer was laid up and wetted thoroughly with resin. At the end of the process, the thickness of the hull on the repair site was the same as that of the original, built up with sixteen layers.
A series of coatings of epoxy primers followed as we moved into week five and then an epoxy fairing compound, the first of two, was applied and sanded back to fill in minor imperfections.
The repair completed, the old layer of hard antifouling around the waterline was sanded away and the waterline was primed with an epoxy barrier. I wanted the Coppercoat waterline to be raised a little so that when Tatsu is fully laden the waterline is still protected by antifoul. Then the hull was sanded back to good Coppercoat and primer applied where needed, before finally the new Coppercoat was applied.
In the meantime, Nacho was busy welding a set of safety bars for the mast. I have never been a great fan of mast pulpits or ‘Granny Bars’ as they are widely known, but my passage last year on Spellbinder impressed upon me the value of these fittings. Designed to hold you fast while you are at the mast reefing or adjusting halyards, the bars provide a great sense of safety and make life much easier. They are not things of beauty, but they will vastly improve safety on board Tatsu. They are frequently seen in pairs, fitted port and starboard sides, but all the essential work can be done from the starboard side on Tatsu, so I made the decision to fit just the one bar.
And so the day finally came. All the work had been completed and we were ready for launch. A final light sanding of the hull to expose a fresh layer of copper and we were on the crawler, slowing moving across the yard to the hoist. Naturally, the elements knew that soon I would be berthing Tatsu in her marina berth again, so the wind got up to around twenty five knots! She was blown about in the strops as the hoist motored towards the water and at last I was able to step onto her as she was lowered into the water.
Lowered into the sea, but still in the strops, all the new skin fittings and the new shaft seal were checked for leaks, but none were evident and the engine started at the touch of a button. With a surge of power astern, we shot out of the strops and away from the boatyard. Tempting though it was to go for a sail, with no sails on the spars and no anchor fitted, the sensible thing to do was to head back to our berth.
The eight weeks spent in the yard have left their mark – Tatsu is filthy inside and out, from the dust generated by grinding and sanding of vessels. A deep clean inside and out is required, but it is so good to be back in the water, ready for the next adventure.
The end of our third week on the hard in the boat yard is fast approaching and a great deal of work has been completed. Five bronze skin fittings, the fittings used to maintain the holes in the hull, to allow sea water in or waste water out, have been replaced and some have had new seacocks too – the valve fitted inside the boat to open or close the hole. A new cutlass bearing, which is the bearing the propeller shaft runs through and a new shaft seal on the inside of the boat, have been fitted. The old bearing and seal were in perfect condition but well past their replacement dates. Replacing the shaft seal every four to five years is recommended. The existing one has just clocked up eleven years without a single drip! Replacing these things now makes economic sense whilst Tatsu is out of the water and they are relatively inexpensive jobs.
I wonder where we will be when they next get replaced?
The first two weeks on the hard were characterised by strong winds from the North East. Being located at the southernmost tip of the yard meant that every fishing boat in the yard which was being sanded, or attacked with a grinding wheel, sprinkled Tatsu with dust and metal particles. This week, the wind has switched to the South West and as I write, the edges of the hole in the hull are being ground out by a laminate technician armed with a grinding wheel, in preparation for the new laminate layup. Tatsu is returning the favour and showering every boat in the yard with fibreglass particles! In fact, the wind here is very strong at the moment. This must be the windiest June on record here and the shower of fibreglass dust will be carried across many miles of farm land North East of here. The fibres are a skin irritant and I suspect a good few people will be itching between here are Los Alcázares this afternoon!
Best of all, the new tank is here. It is still very much in kit form, consisting of two large pieces of laser cut steel and a stack of smaller pieces. The largest piece will form the bottom and sides of the tank, the other large piece the top, front and back and the stack of smaller pieces will be the internal baffles which will stop the fuel inside from sloshing about and creating momentum. Over the next week or so, the new tank will be welded together and prepared for fitting.
Life on the hard is quite different from life on the water.
Here the day starts early. Deck hands and crews of the fishing boats moored just a few metres away from Tatsu’s location on the quayside arrive at five thirty in the morning. Engines are started, there is a great deal of shouting and laughing and several boats depart to tend to the fish farms off the coast. Already, before sunrise, there is a gathering of old men on the quayside, armed with fishing rods. I see more sunrises than I would normally see, the sun rising at 6.40am. Shortly after that the yard hooter sounds at 7.00am and everyone starts work. The throb of diesel engines, the buzz of fork lift trucks, reversing alarms beeping, angle grinders and other power tools adding to the melee and of course the wind, which starts soon after sunrise as a gentle breeze, before ascending the Beaufort Scale with ambition, reaching Force six, gusting seven the last couple of days and causing anything that isn’t nailed down to flap and bang in the wind. Moreover, the wind has occasionally gusted so strongly that it has rocked Tatsu’s seven tonne mass in the steel cradle – an unnerving feeling when you are down below! It is an effort to communicate in this environment and the calmness of the evening, when the gates are finally closed, everyone has gone home and the wind dies down, is always welcome.
I have heard it said that sometimes the worst place you can be is in your own head. And on a sunny morning in April this year, as I fixed my gaze on the contents of my Pela pump, my head was indeed a tumultuous place to be. I had siphoned six litres of fluid from the depths of Tatsu’s bilge and five and a half of them were diesel. The following morning another five litres of diesel appeared. I searched the frantic search of a man who is looking for some evidence which might show that the very worst scenario – a leaking fuel tank – was not the cause. But alas, after two days I had to call the search off.
The bare fact was, the stainless steel keel tank was leaking and over the next few days I pumped over seventy litres of diesel out of the bilge.
In many mass production yachts this is not a big issue. The tank is sometimes not easy to get to and removal, repair or replacement can be a tiresome and expensive business.
On the Hallberg Rassy 352, it is a major problem. I will not bore you with the details, for this is the travels of Tatsu, not the maintenance of Tatsu, but imagine if you will, you had a cellar in your home, with a small swimming pool in it. The pool springs a leak and cannot be repaired, so you have to replace it. The only way to extract it is to remove your kitchen, the bedroom above it a few dozen tiles from the roof, then hire a crane to lift the pool out of the basement, through the kitchen and bedroom and out through the roof!
When this boat was built in a shed on the island of Ellös, just North of Gothenburg, Sweden, in the nineteen eighties, they first bonded the deck to the newly formed hull. One of the first jobs was to locate the one hundred and fifty litre fuel tank, shaped like a metre long wedge of cheese, inside the slender keel of the hull, where its weight would be best placed to ensure the vessel was sea kindly. The tank was made of a marine grade of stainless steel, known as 316 and we all know that stainless steel never goes rusty…. The tank was then sealed into the keel with a layer of glassfibre and the engine lowered on top. While this was going on, the cabinet makers were weaving their magic in the saloon, fitting out the galley in mahogany laid over a substantial frame of thick marine grade plywood, all glued and screwed beautifully and finished off with dado and bridle joints in a celebration of joinery perfection which would bring a tear to the eye of any cabinet maker. A thing of beauty is indeed, a joy forever.
Thirty one years later, that shiny stainless steel tank has gone rusty. The inevitable exposure to salt water, condensation and temperature fluctuation has claimed another victim.
There are a number of possible solutions to any problem. To revisit the swimming pool in the basement analogy, one could simply drain the leaking pool, leave it in the basement and fit a smaller pool in the kitchen, or the dining room, or fit a smaller pool inside the leaking one…
For several days, exiled aboard the boat as Spain remained locked down tightly in the midst of the pandemic, I looked at the problem from every angle. I searched the internet, the Owners Association, Facebook groups, numerous forums and YouTube. There is not a lot of information out there about dealing with this situation with specific regard to this model of boat. Solutions ranged from buying a magic product which guaranteed to seal a leak in any fuel tank, to removing the cockpit floor and extracting the engine and gearbox and removal of the tank. The likely cost of repair seemed to run from twelve euros for the bottle of leak sealing compound to twenty thousand for extracting the tank the way Hallberg Rassy had fitted it.
There was also a wide range of make-do solutions such as fitting a much smaller tank inside the leaking tank, fitting a new tank elsewhere, not having a tank at all and feeding the engine from the reserve tank. None of these solutions appealed to me. I bought Tatsu to cross oceans, her stability and sea handling characteristics are superior to most other boats of her size and to adjust the trim of the boat by draining the keel tank and fitting a tank elsewhere would interfere with the centres of gravity and buoyancy and the trim and righting momentum of the vessel. And so day by day, each cunning path to a solution meandered back to the same stark truth. For the repair to be done properly, the tank would have to be removed and replaced with a new one.
Removing the tank in a reverse procedure of the one the makers used to install it, is a mammoth task. The cockpit sole has to be removed, after some further carpentry, the massive Eberspächer heater motor has to be removed, along with its jumble of electronics and duct pipes, which blow hot air so efficiently through the boat in winter. The engine and gearbox must be craned out through the cockpit. Then a layer of fibreglass must be sawn away and one can now see the top of the tank. The steel construction is heavy even when empty, but can be lifted out of its resting place relatively easily however, its path to freedom is not yet accessible. The galley worktop now impedes the tank’s progress and must be either removed in its entirety (including the double sink and the top of the fridge) or a part of it cut out. The mahogany panel behind it also must be removed and mounted on the back of this panel is the domestic electrical consumer unit, the switching system for the batteries and the anchor windlass trip switch. The fridge motor and heat exchanger must also be removed as well as much of that sturdy marine ply construction which is fibreglassed to the hull…
As you lay on the floor of the boat with your head and shoulders inside the engine bay, scanning a torch over all these details and soak in the logistics of the situation, it has a tendency to overwhelm you. You realise that the removal of the engine and gearbox is just the tip of the iceberg. And you realise that with the disturbance of this vast amount of piping, wiring and machinery, even the most diligent mechanic will not get everything back quite the way it should be and a couple of seasons of trying to find the irritating electrical fault, or the persistent oil leak, or the fridge or heating problem will ensue.
And you say to yourself, there must be another way.
I am most fortunate to have the wise counsel of two sailing mentors. Both boat owners, they are a font of knowledge and experience, sounding boards upon which to kick around an idea. One of them sent me a link for a blog in which a boat owner had cut a hole in the side of his boat to remove and replace a fuel tank. To my eyes the pictures were horrifying. The very idea of cutting a hole in the side of my boat, a hole big enough to extract a one hundred and fifty litre tank, was unthinkable.
And yet, here I sit, not looking at all perturbed about the fact that a hole around a metre square has been cut in the side of Tatsu!
Between the suggestion of the concept and the execution of the plan, many sleepless nights were had. I will admit that I did not like the idea. But each time it was dismissed, each time the awful idea was flushed away in the lavatory bowl of despair, around the U bend of torment, the next morning, there it was, floating on the surface of the water, defiant and insolent.
In fact, the idea of cutting a hole in the side of a boat is nothing unusual. In the fishing industry and in shipping, it is a common maintenance procedure albeit in steel hulls. But modern laminating techniques, cross-strand matting and high strength epoxies mean that resealing a hole is a drama-free process that leaves the hull intact and as strong as it had been before the hole was cut.
Here in the yard Tatsu’s neighbour has had a large hole cut in the bow section below the waterline, to retro-fit a bow thruster and the next boat along, a Spanish Navy Patrol Boat has also had a large hole cut below the water line to replace a fluid tank.
I spoke with the engineer at the boatyard and there was not a flicker of surprise when I outlined my plan to cut a massive hole in the side of my boat. Yes, the yard had done it before. In fact they had cut a whole boat in half, lengthened the hull by two metres and put it back together and it had gone on to cross the Atlantic.
And so here I am. Lifted out of the water on a warm May afternoon and seated in a cradle, Tatsu has a commanding view of the harbour. Sandwiched between two much larger boats, she still gets enough sunshine to utilise her solar power array, as a variety of workmen attend to the list of jobs.
The first task to be tackled was the removal of the fuel tank. Exploratory holes were drilled at strategic points and a plan of the location and size of the tank was drawn on the hull. And then the cutting machinery came out. This was the worst part. A jigsaw, a reciprocating saw, an oscillating multi-saw and finally a circular saw were used to make the cut. As it was cut on the outside, another workman watched carefully on the inside to ensure nothing other than the hull was being cut. They started shortly after seven in the morning and by mid afternoon the panel had been prised from the hull and the tank was exposed. That we had cut the hole the right size and in the right place, was a massive relief, for we had been unable to ascertain the exact dimensions of the tank, by any means. Hallberg Rassy themselves were reluctant to assist and it was only after lengthy internet searches that I was able to find some pictures of the tank and ‘guesstimate’ its size and shape.
The next moment of joy was finding that the tank was indeed leaking. It sounds strange, but in the days before we picked up the cutting tools in anger, I started to think perhaps the leak had come from somewhere else…
A steady stream of diesel from a pin hole at the front of the tank confirmed the leak and I found that I could easily stick the blade of my pocket knife into the floor of the tank at the back, so the bottom of the tank had in effect, rotted out.
The tank now sits in shame in a corner of the yard, weeping diesel and looking neglected. A new tank is being fabricated in thicker stainless steel and this will be laminated in glass fibre to give it added protection from any water.
In the meantime life on the hard, overlooking the harbour, is very pleasant. It seems prudent to carry out all the work that can possibly be done whilst she is ashore and so each day something is being replaced, checked, repaired or aligned. It will be another couple of weeks before the new tank can be installed and I will be able to report on the progress of relaminating.
Robin Knox-Johnston has been widely quoted as saying that he learns something every time he steps aboard a boat. As someone who has completed two solo circumnavigations his words serve to remind anyone who considers themselves to be a sailor, that there is an infinite amount to learn about the art.
Living aboard Tatsu I learn something every day. Today I learned that mixing polyester resin and the catalyst MEKP in a yoghurt pot is imprudent. The mixture will rapidly dissolve the bottom of the yoghurt pot, resulting in polyester resin mix going everywhere! I’m sure I remember doing this at school. It may be that the resin is more powerful these days, but I suspect it is that the yoghurt pots are not so well made.
In the last month I have made my first ocean crossing and added a sizeable number of nautical miles to my sailing log, which is still some way short of the twenty one thousand, six hundred miles calculated to be a circumnavigation. The passage from Bermuda to the Azores is reckoned to take between eleven and fourteen days depending on the weather. The shortest distance between the two points is approximately one thousand, six hundred and seventy nautical miles.
In the weeks running up to the passage, I thought about how I would feel when the trip was completed. I also wondered what it would be like to be so far offshore, so far from land and so comprehensively disconnected from civilisation, for not only would we be out of sight of land for around two weeks, but within hours of departing Bermuda, there would be no ‘phone signal, no 4G, no encyclopedic Google to consult, no Twitter app to scroll through, no Instagram feed to check… in fact, with the exception of the SSB radio, there was nothing to reassure us the rest of the world was still there. I also contemplated the idea that I would not be quite the same person when we arrived in the Azores that I had been when we left Bermuda. I would surely, at the very least, be wiser…
Affordable air travel has made the world feel a smaller place and I have often heard it said that we are no more than twenty four hours away from anywhere in the world. If you could fly from Bermuda to the Azores it would take a little over five and a half hours. Just time to settle into your seat, enjoy a pre-lunch gin and tonic, watch a film and maybe enjoy a short snooze before the cabin staff walk through with a bin liner and the scratch cards, heralding the tables-up, seat backs forward and final approach.
There are no direct flights from Bermuda to the Azores, perhaps because there is little demand for a flight between these two distinctly different locations. Whilst both are situated in the North Atlantic, both hundreds of miles from the nearest land mass, they could not be more different. Bermuda is a British Overseas Territory, though the feeling on the island is distinctly American. Bermuda enjoys a close relationship with the United States, its nearest neighbour and supplier for most of the island’s needs, while the Azores archipelago is instantly recognisable as being European and is very Portuguese in every way.
St George’s Harbour was a kaleidoscope of blues and greens the day we left. Fleecy white cumulus skated across the sky with the steady North Westerly wind, against a backdrop of blue, streaked with mare’s tails of cirrus. As we entered The Cut, a deep passage between St George’s Island and Higgs and Horseshoe Islands, the slightly milky turquoise sea of the harbour turned to a deeper blue and then Bermuda was behind us. A cluster of other yachts departed that day, but we quickly lost sight of them as Bermuda shrank in our wake.
Whilst both Bermuda and the North Atlantic were unfamiliar to me, a few elements conspired together to create a feeling of familiarity on board. Spellbinder is a Hallberg Rassy 40, from the same stable as Tatsu, albeit seventeen years younger and designed by Germán Frers. She is a little bigger of course, but essentially the centre cockpit layout is the same. Not surprisingly, behind the contemporary trim panels much of the engineering is identical. I have had the pleasure of sailing with Spellbinder’s owner Nick on many occasions and we have amassed nearly 3,500 miles of sailing together over 47 days at sea in the last ten years, throughout which he has remained unflappable in all circumstances. Perhaps it was these elements of familiarity which blended to give me the feeling that we were just setting out on a day sail across to Cherbourg from the Isle of Wight…
As the sun set on that first day, we began a watch rota that was to remain unchanged for the duration of the passage, each taking a two hour watch alone and enjoying four hours rest. Bermuda had all but disappeared when my watch commenced at nine that evening.
I have always enjoyed night watches alone on a long passage. In complete darkness, everything you need to survive is on your boat – food, warmth, contact with the rest of the world and yet just a metre or two from where you sit at the helm, beneath the waves all around you is deep water, a hostile environment where survival is measured in minutes rather than hours and the longer you ponder this notion, the smaller you feel, like an astronaut in deep space. At eleven that night, it was time to wake the other crew Alan, no stranger to being roused at odd hours in the night to take a watch. He was in the cockpit a few minutes later with a quiet efficiency that was the hallmark of everything he did. Four hours later, it was my turn to be roused, this time by Nick, who handed over the watch and as we headed East I had the sunrise to myself.
There was in fact a fourth crew member without whom the passage would have been considerably more arduous. Perched on the stern, never complaining, never pausing for food or drink and always with a firm hand on the wheel, was the Hydrovane, a wind steering device that helms the yacht using the wind direction to maintain the course. A balanced wind vane set head-to-wind falls to windward or leeward as the boat falls off course and through a finely engineered mechanical process this turns an auxiliary rudder, bringing the boat back on course. The majority of Blue Water equipped yachts have some kind of wind steering gear and it would be fair to say that the Hydrovane on Spellbinder steered the majority of the passage. Though I have fitted a Hydrovane to Tatsu, it has had little use save for a spell on the passage from Helford to L’Aber Wrac’h and for fifteen hours during the crossing of the Bay of Biscay. This was certainly my longest period under wind steering gear and the hypnotic lolling of the wind vane became a feature of each watch.
During the daytime, the watch system was relaxed and although there were some days when it seemed barely an hour went by without the need to change the sail plan, there were also days when rarely a sheet was touched, including a run of nearly two days under the parasailor alone, which allowed crew and skipper alike to doze in the sunshine, read, or simply sit on the toe rail looking out to sea in quiet contemplation.
On such a long ocean passage, the sighting of a sea bird or a ship is quite an event. As we left Bermuda behind us we saw fewer birds each day; the White-tailed tropicbird and other coastal dwellers preferring to stay closer to land until our only company was the Great Shearwater, often in pairs gliding effortlessly along the troughs of waves hundreds of miles from land. Occasionally we would see a pod of dolphins feeding in the distance and within minutes half a dozen Great Shearwaters would be circling above the dolphins and dipping down to the surface of the water. This is life in the midst of an ocean. Occasionally we spotted flying fish, sometimes in pairs, occasionally in a small group, taking flight from the water and with a characteristic sound not unlike that made by a yacht wind generator, fluttering across the wave tops sometimes for a hundred metres or more.
More than once, a shout went up on deck when a whale spout was spotted and all three of us would drop whatever we were doing to watch in wonder as a whale passed by, its progress punctuated by gasping eruptions of water as it rose to the surface for air. Dolphins too would race across the waves to spend time at the bows of the boat, sometimes leaping completely out of the water.
I have to credit Australian adventurer, film maker and kayaker Beau Miles when I say I believe we have lost what it means to travel under our own steam, or by using the elements. To cover one hundred and fifty miles in a day is an achievement in a small yacht and not only can that distance potentially change your life, but at little more than six miles an hour, you see it with such intimacy, you can’t help but take notice. It is all consuming. You have to regress a little. You have to go back to having the wind and sea dictate your progress and not time. And there is a feeling that you are the centre of the Universe, but there is also enough time to make you realise that, compared to the sea you are sailing across, you’re nothing at all.
By end of the first week, we had passed the midway point between Bermuda and our intended destination, the island of Flores. We were sailing across the Sohm Abyssal Plain, a vast and more or less flat ocean sea bed more than three and a half miles below us. The nearest land was the island of Newfoundland some six hundred miles North of us and the closest human beings could be the three occupants of the International Space Station, as they passed overhead a mere 248 miles above us. Any sense of isolation however, disipates in the evening when the SSB Net convenes and we had contact with other yachts over the horizon. That said, the crackly and sometimes distorted voices we heard reminded me of Nevil Shute’s post-apocalyptic novel On The Beach. Occasionally during the day, we would hear half of a conversation on our VHF set, which has a range of about thirty miles at sea, but the SSB was the star of the show, allowing communication with weather forecasters in the United States as well as a daily chat with other vessels making the crossing. This daily ’Net’ was organised by members of the Ocean Cruising Club and proved invaluable for ascertaining the progress of others, any navigational hazards and wind and sea state in a variety of different locations.
All too soon, in the early hours of our thirteenth day, the distant lights of Flores appeared ahead. Pinpricks of light at first, slowly becoming coherent strings of street lights. On watch, I found myself transfixed by these lights and pondering the eternal question as to whether it had been the passage, or the landfall which would prove to be the high point of this adventure. There cannot be one without the other I suppose and though it was the passage I had most looked forward to, with landfall there was an unexpected intensity of emotion. The smell of mown grass and vegetation, the dark bulk of the island on the sea as we navigated our way around it to the harbour at Lajes Das Flores, circling the two boats anchored there before we quietly dropped our anchor in the bay outside the marina, the vertical cliffs of Fazenda towering above us, circled by gulls. Our passage concluded at half past four in the morning on our thirteenth day at sea, a respectable time for a passage where the winds are not always fair and the seas not always following.
You can read an account of Spellbinder’s Atlantic circuit from the UK to the Caribbean and back here
Those of you who watch Tatsu’s sporadic YouTube vlog will have seen that the solar panel project has been completed. At least, that is the inference. In fact, it rumbles on, past the eleven month point and, like a bent shopping trolley with a gammy wheel, it lurches down the supermarket aisle of time without ever reaching the checkout of completion. It will soon be one year ago that I ventured into the Capitania here at Yacht Port Cartagena and uttered the words which now haunt me: Can you recommend someone who can do some stainless steel work please?
I will not distress you further with the history of the process, suffice to say it has been a low budget drama featuring a mechanic with no stainless steel fabrication skills and his friend, a gentleman who works in the shipbuilding yard here at Cartagena and who is a stainless steel fabrication hobbyist. The fruit borne from this unholy matrimony was a slightly bent and dented, but extended and ultimately useable pushpit rail which, although it was not perfect, was at least functional. You will recall that the brief was for the existing rail to be removed and extended, to enable the solar panels to be mounted on the side of the boat. After three months, the pushpit rail had been extended and refitted, but the remainder of the work was left incomplete and so after a further four months of inactivity, a decision was made to terminate the arrangement whereby the mechanic would complete the job and I would step into the breach and complete the work myself.
The staff here at the marina were excellent and the hobbyist stainless steel fabricator was recalled to the scene of his crime to polish the unpolished welds and straighten those parts of the rail which were supposed to be straight. Upon completion, this seemed satisfactory, though I will admit I did not forensically examine the finished product and perhaps I should have done.
Fast forward another four months and at long last, all the elements required to complete the task have been assembled. Two solar panels languished in the forepeak, ten metres of solar panel cabling lay coiled in the cockpit locker along with the solar controller, a bag of cable connectors and two pairs of Swedish made solar panel brackets, beautifully machined in aluminium. On the day I chose to start the work, even the sun rose early, as if keen to provide the gift of light, which would be harvested by the panels and made into food for the battery bank.
It took me just two days to complete the work and at around midday on the second day I spotted the problem.
The rails on which the panels are mounted have a friction clamp, which is machined perfectly to fit a standard twenty five millimetre diameter stainless steel rail. The panel can then be adjusted to the desired angle and the knobs on the two clamps are tightened, holding the panel in the desired position. The panel on the starboard side fitted perfectly. When I fitted the clamp to the port side however, it was another matter. The clamp was difficult to close and no matter how hard the friction lock knob was turned, the panel would not stay in the position I wanted. An engineer would have immediately noticed the issue and in fairness, I think my brain did actually register the salient facts at the root of the problem but, so close to the finish line of this eleven month saga, the incoming information was marked ‘Non-urgent, process later’ and I pressed on in a state of denial.
Of course, the fact of the matter was, the rail on the port side was not twenty five millimetres in diameter. It was not round. Either deformed before it was selected as the material for my hobbyist fabricator to construct this demonic entity, or during the construction process where the heat from the fires of Hell (for surely, this must be where this framework of torture was constructed) caused the port side rail to become elliptical.
By dusk, the newly fitted clamps on the port side panel had peeled open, having been subjected to forces beyond their design brief. This prompted me to fetch the Vernier caliper from the toolbox and there, as the last rays of the sun faded in the West, the full scale of the situation was revealed to me and a howl of anguish escaped my lips.
For those non-engineering types, a Vernier caliper is a small measuring device, enabling the user to accurately measure something. In this case it was the diameter of the rail, which turned out to be twenty six millimetres in height and twenty four millimetres in width. This was why the aluminium clamps had failed. It took a long while to sink in. I went below and took some wine, for medicinal purposes. I returned on deck with a torch and the Vernier caliper a number of times, each time discovering the horror. I slept fitfully and again in the morning, went up on deck with my measuring tool, but still the rail persisted in being oval rather than round.
If like me, you are a lay person who has little appreciation for mechanical tolerance and you do not possess a degree in mechanical engineering, an extra millimetre here, or the absence of one there may seem of little consequence. After all, we are talking about the thickness of ten sheets of plain paper from the photocopier tray. However, it was a gap of about a millimetre which allowed fuel from the rocket booster of the Space Shuttle Challenger to leak, causing the calamitous explosion seventy three seconds after lift off on that fateful January day in 1986.
Thankfully, the only casualty on this occasion has been my blood pressure and I feel sure that the engineering department of the Spanish Space Agency, the Instituto Nacional de Técnica Aeroespecial based near Madrid, have a far greater understanding of mechanical tolerances than the marine ‘engineer’ who fabricated my rail. The brackets though, are machined to perfectly fit the rail and even a slight distortion can cause a problem.
I am no engineer, but even I could surmise that the amount of pressure required to return the rail from its deformed strangeness to the industry standard twenty five millimetre roundness, would be several tonnes. I spent the day mulling the problem over. Eventually I spoke with a Swedish gentleman who formed the technical department of the small engineering company in Sweden who made the panel brackets. He listened impassively to my tale before his first question, which went straight to the root of the issue.
“Where did you find rail this shape?”
I explained that I had not asked for this shape but rather, it had been bestowed upon me by the maker of my pushpit in Spain. He observed that the replacement of the rail was the only solution to the problem and defeated, I ordered another pair of clamps to replace the ones which had failed.
Several days of thought followed. I attempted to catch the port rail by surprise, armed with the measuring device, but it stubbornly kept up the act. I foraged through my tool kit, looking for something that I might use to compress the rail, but the sheer force required to reshape three millimetre thick marine stainless steel tubing would either require ridiculous leverage or the power of hydraulics, neither of which I have to hand. In the end, I realised that the only way forward was to unburden myself of the problem, by passing it on to the marina staff. It was their mechanic who had been responsible for the creation after all.
The following morning the marina mechanic boarded Tatsu and introduced me to a gentleman called Alan. Alan is Spanish and stainless steel fabrication is his business. He looks and speaks like Manalito Montoya from the High Chaparral and it soon became clear that he knew his stuff. He listened carefully while I explained the problem. I handed him the Vernier caliper and he methodically measured the rails with the bearing of a consultant examining a patient.
At the conclusion of his examination he asked what had caused the rails to become thusly deformed. Had I collided with another yacht? I looked at the marina mechanic, who looked at his shoes and I explained that this was how the assembly had been supplied some months earlier. A lengthy a rapid conversation ensued between Alan and the marina mechanic, who had of course been present at the fitting of the rails by his friend, the stainless hobbyist. Though my Spanish is coming on well, I do not have a broad enough vocabulary to be able to understand technical conversation between two native speakers, but I have heard that communication is only thirty percent what you say and seventy percent the way you say it and it was apparent that Alan was asking a lot of questions and the mechanic was doing a lot of shrugging.
The conclusion was, the whole assembly will have to be removed from the boat again and the deformed rail replaced entirely, a mammoth task but one that when completed, will solve the problem. For me, it required three hours of my Sunday, to unbolt the two gin seats,remove the new solar panels, remove the outboard and unbolt the bracket on which it is mounted, snip the forty-odd cable ties which I had painstakingly zipped on to neatly route the cabling for the solar panels, removed the life ring brackets and disconnect the guardrails. This process requires the undoing of twenty three stainless fixings of one kind or another, with the associated risk that at some point inevitably, one or more will be fumbled, dropped and plop into the water. So far they have all survived removal, replacement and a second removal…
The now naked pushpit rail was due to be collected first thing this morning, but unsurprisingly at midday, the crooked structure remains atop the aft deck mocking me…
We had heard many stories of anchoring madness in the Balearics, but seen little evidence of it. In our first anchorage at Cala Blanco, we had seen some unorthodox anchoring techniques, but nothing that left us slack-jawed in disbelief. This was to change in Cala Boix…
We crept into the cove a little before seven that evening and anchored away from the beach, taking care to drop the anchor on a patch of sand. All around us, the seabed was mostly weed, with the odd sandy patch. It was a beautiful cala, very peaceful at that time of the day, with a dozen or so boats anchored in a huddle together, very close to the line of buoys marking the swimming zone off the beach. At dusk, a superyacht came into the cala and dropped their anchor. We could see a small beach bar on the shore and watched, as people on the beach packed up to go home.
The following morning, a couple of the yachts anchored close to the swimming buoys weighed anchor and left. Around mid morning, an official looking RIB motored into the cala and the driver made his way around the anchored boats, using a bathyscope to look beneath the surface of the water. This device, also called an aquascope, is like a loud hailer, with a seal at the small end, designed to press against the user’s face like a snorkelling mask. It is hand held and allows the user to see clearly below the surface of the water, without getting wet. He stopped and spoke with several yachts and at length, came over to us. He checked our anchor and told us we’d have to move as, although the anchor itself was in sand, our chain was touching the weed. The weed, or Posidonia Oceanica to give it it’s correct name, is protected by law and the islands are patrolled by Posidonia Conservation boats, which move offenders on and prosecute persistent offenders.
We were happy to weigh anchor and the RIB driver suggested we move as close to the swimming buoys as possible, where the seabed was all sand. This certainly explained why all the boats seemed to be huddled together in the cala! We weren’t quite so comfortable, squeezing into the midst of this area of anchored boats. There is no tide, or current in the calas, so boats tend to lay to the wind, which was blowing offshore. We motored as close to the buoyed line at the edge of the swimming zone as we dared and dropped the anchor, before motoring astern to ensure it dug in. Our neighbours each side stood on deck, as yacht skippers do when someone is anchoring close by, with hands on hips, watching with an expression that conveyed mild disapproval. There had been a catamaran much larger than us, in that very space until half an hour previously, so it was not going to be a problem, but we are (by Balearic Islands standards) inexperienced at close-quarters anchoring and feel uncomfortable being so close to the fellow next door, that you can read the headlines on his newspaper. Certainly, if you anchored that close to someone in Osbourne Bay in the Solent, they would have something to say about it!
An hour later, a stream of day visitors into the cala seemed hell bent on showing us that there was plenty of room to anchor between us and our neighbours. Just when we thought, that’s it, you could not fit even a rubber dinghy in the gaps between us, a gentleman in a sporty looking forty four foot motor launch, pushed his way into the midst of the chaos. Motoring up to the bathing platform of a small motorboat alongside us, he peered over the windscreen, before dropping the anchor remotely. We watched in disbelief, as did the small motorboat owner, who stood on his bathing platform, holding the hand of a small child. Both looked skywards at the bow of the big motor launch and stepped back, to avoid the splash of water, as the anchor dropped about a metre from them. Beaming with pride, the motor launch driver gave the throttle a short bust in astern, before turning off the engines and going down below. It was our turn to adopt a look of mild disapproval.
While the wind blew lightly offshore, everything was fine.When there was a lull in the breeze, turmoil ensued, with the heavy boats staying put and the lighter one’s swinging on their anchor lines. Our neighbour had left his boat unattended and gone ashore, where no doubt, he was enjoying a refreshing beverage in the beach bar and celebrating another successful close-quarters anchoring effort. We fended off his boat as it swung round into Tatsu. All the day visitors wanted to make the most of it and donned trunks, snorkels and fins and dived into the water around us with a variety of toys, from the uber-cool diver propulsion vehicles, a torpedo shaped device with two handles on it, designed to tow a swimmer along either above or below the surface, to the humble inflatable li-lo and everything in between.
The next morning, the anchorage resembled a supermarket car park on a Saturday morning and we decided to move on. The previous evening, our neighbour and his lady companion had left their motor launch in the capable hands of half a dozen children aged between six and eight, while they dined on another boat and it had not made for a restful night aboard Tatsu…
We carefully retrieved the anchor and threaded our way out of the anchorage, slightly anxious that we may not find another anchorage close by. In fact, we need not have concerned ourselves. The next cove along, Cala Lleña, was wider and had a clean, sandy seabed. It was also empty and, having anchored in six metres, we started to feel there might be a reason why this cala was unoccupied… we decided to move along again and found Cala Nova, a lovely wide bay, with a white sandy bottom and just two other boats. We dropped the anchor and had a swim down the anchor chain to make sure it had set in the sand ten metres below.
It was to be our last night in Ibiza and proved tranquil and picturesque. When the sun set, the shoreline lit up and we could just make out music on the warm wind that blew across the bay.
The next morning, we took advantage of the Easterly breeze and drifted down the South coast of Ibiza under just the Genoa. We saw Cala Talamanca and the main port in Ibiza, before turning South and making for the South East tip of Formentera, where once again we saw towering cliffs, which made Karen think of fillet steak!
We sailed along the South coast of Formentera, a beautiful ribbon of white sandy beach and turquoise water, before heading South West.
Into the night we sailed, with a steady seventeen knots of wind pushing on our port quarter until, an hour or so before dawn the wind died out. In the early hours, we saw a glow on the horizon to the South East and identfied it on AIS as P&O’s Brittania, heading for Cartagena. It was five o’clock that evening when we closed on the now familiar ladmarks off Cartagena, to see Brittania leaving the port, having spent the day in the town. We refuelled on the fuel pontoon before taking up our berth, tired but happy, after a hundred and seventy four mile passage, which we completed in a little under thirty hours.
In our twelve nights away, we had enjoyed six anchorages on two of the islands and seen three of the four main islands. We used two hundred and seventy litres from our three hundred litre fresh waters tanks and a hundred and sixty litres of fuel in our 495 nautical mile trip and celebrated with dinner in town the next night, where we were able to address the much discussed issue of steak!
The wind was trying to be helpful on the passage from Ibiza to Mallorca. At least, it wasn’t on the nose to start with. It began by playfully wafting over Tatsu’s beam, but there simply was not enough of it to push us through the water. We had the engine on and ticking over at low revs and the combination of sails and a little help from the engine enabled us to make our planned passage speed. We’d left Cala Blanco before dawn and were lucky enough to have the sunrise to ourselves as we pushed East, along the Northern tip of Ibiza. As we approached Punta des Moscarter, the sun began it’s journey over the lip of the distant horizon, filling the sky with oranges and pinks and lighting up the sea in front of us like burnished gold.
We passed a little traffic as we left Ibiza, mostly charter catamarans, early birds who were making passages West, mostly. A little later, we crossed paths with a couple of ferries from the mainland and a container ship. It’s always nice to see shipping about, so long as the closest we get to them is half a mile or more! With the engine on, we could allow the autohelm to steer us. I read and Karen baked a cake and made some bread. It was a truly beautiful day.
At half past seven that evening, we arrived off the coast of Mallorca. Just North of the town of Cólonia de Sant Jordi there is a three miles stretch of beach. It makes for a beautiful anchorage provided there is no wind or swell coming in from the South East quarter. We dropped the anchor with around three and a half metres under the keel, over a bottom comprised of slabs of rock, which we could see through the clear water. Our neighbours, in a beautiful wooden yawl, made a perfect picture as the sun went down.
It was a busy anchorage, but there was plenty of room and there was every kind of boat anchored there. We saw three or four superyachts in the anchorage, including a beautiful thirty eight metre sailing yacht, ‘Alexa of London.’ Available for charter in the islands for a cool €46,000 a week, plus expenses, she can accommodate eight people in four cabins, in a state of luxury which we ourselves would very much like to become accustomed to… but if we could afford such luxury, I’m not at all sure we wouldn’t have rowed across to our neighbours and asked to buy their boat. It really was beautiful. That evening, the sun really put on a show, as it headed West.
The next afternoon, our good friends Julian and Charmian arrived, with Iona, Henry and Arthur, aboard their charter boat. They were on holiday in the islands and it was fantastic to see them.
We remained at the anchorage a second night and it was so still, I am sure a length of packing twine with a coat hanger on the end would have served equally well as an anchor! There was not a breath of wind or a hint of swell. In the night, we woke and felt it was so still, we must be aground but no, we were still firmly in place. We have experienced more movement tied to a pontoon at night.
The following day, we weighed anchor and had a little sail in the bay, before meeting up with friends in an anchorage South of Cólonia de Sant Jordi. There we anchored on sand and rocks. The wind got up a little, but we were slightly sheltered by a small, uninhabited island.
It was here that we decided to stage the inaugural flight of our camera drone. Drones are all the rage in the yachting community and anyone who really is anyone, has some drone footage of themselves, sailing serenely across a calm sea under canvas, taken from on high by the drone. I just can’t help thinking that they have yet to market one that is waterproof and the vision of a five hundred pound drone (and that’s the starting point for a good one) sinking slowly into the water, is not one I wish to experience. So, on Tatsu, we have taken our lead from an ingenious French fellow named Pierre Picavet, who developed a cunning device for stabilising cameras for use in aerial photography. The system, which is easily home made, uses a lightweight platform, two hooks and a length of string, threaded to ensure the platform stays horizontal in flight. The GoPro camera attached, the whole rig is tied onto the string of a suitable kite and Voila!
Kite Aerial Photography (KAP to those in the cult) has quite a following. Our initial attempts proved to be somewhat disappointing, as the wind failed us and the kite, which had only gained modest height on it’s maiden flight, lost altitude and became an underwater camera… later in the day though, the wind strengthened and we managed to get the kite to quite a height. The video footage is a little jerky, but the stills we lifted from it are quite impressive.
That evening, we buzzed across in a small flotilla of three dinghies and tied up. Eleven of us sat down to dinner in very pleasant surroundings and had the most excellent evening. The next day, our friends moved on the the beautiful island of Cabrera, a national park, where anchoring is forbidden. If you want to visit, you have to book a buoy months in advance and of course, we had not. We stayed in the anchorage another night and consoled ourselves with a barbecue. That evening, it was as if the sun had forgotten what a great show it had put on two nights previous and it gave us another spectacular show. In the midst of it all, a very cool fellow on a stand-up paddleboard, paddled right through our sunset!
The next morning, we checked how much electricity we had left, to find we were running low. Our solar project has ground to a halt, as the technician who started the task has been inundated with work by transient yachts. It means we don’t have the solar panels fitted yet. It wasn’t a problem, we whipped out the little generator we carry and fired it up and for a couple of hours, we charged the batteries, our ‘phones, the iPad, the Macbook, the Dyson, the iPod, the cameras… in fact anything we could plug in!
The following day, we left for Ibiza. This time, the wind had not been expecting us and we actually managed a good few hours of engine-off sailing. It was gloriously hot and we seemed to have the vast stretch of water between Mallorca and Ibiza to ourselves. We even got the sextant out and took a noon site. Karen had a go at bringing the sun down to the horizon and watching how it lifted off quite quickly, as the sun continued to climb.
That evening, we closed on Isla de Tagomago, sailing to the South of the island, an impressive slab of textured rock, which Karen said made her hungry to look at, resembling a slice of fillet steak.
Once round the corner, we made for our intended anchorage at Cala Boix.