Due to unforeseen circumstances, the crew list for the first international part of our 2015 cruising had to change, with Vaughan and Will making their way to Menorca to join the yacht, while Jenny and Terry stayed at home.
Mahon Harbour is a great place to arrive. The Club Maritimo lets out the very best bows-to moorings to be had, right in the thick of things, with, on a normal day, upwards of £50million of floating real estate lined up side by side, -- and Voltair had found a place in the middle of it! The week before had been a "Maxi Yacht" regatta, and the police had closed the Corniche road to accommodate their huge amounts of sails, ropes etc and the shiny team trucks - it was more like a F1 race meeting than any yachting event I've ever seen. The centre of attraction was the "Wally" class yachts - 100+ feet of gleaming flat-decked racing machine, crewed by twenty-somethings in coloured team kit, and fed by the local restaurateurs on "Wally menus". We weren't sure if these were high or low carb diets, but they were certainly priced to make a profit! There was just one of eighteen Wallys left in harbour on the morning that Vaughan and Will arrived at the Maritimo, having carried their bags from the airport bus station (perhaps a somewhat longer distance than V had remembered!) and even that one had slipped away before they arrived. However, the first photos have to be of Wallys, since you don't usually see £120 million of yachts all in one place at one time.
After an excellent 3-course lunch by the waterside, the first afternoon was spent doing the mundane things you have to do before a cruise - carry
large quantities of victuals around town, find somewhere to stow them on board, fill up the water tanks, eat a piece of V's huge stock of Toblerone,
rewire the fridge cicuit and fit 25kg batteries into their boxes, as well as fail to buy enough Pan.
So we actually set off the next morning around 10am, into a light easterly breeze, with Perkins and George doing most of the work. Fortunately, they were not shirkers, and managed a full 30-hours before the breeze backed and strengthened enough for us to get the sails to share some of the load.
Twilight had been a prolonged affair, with both Venus and Jupiter magnificent sights, dimming as they approached the horizon and plunged seawards, chasing the sun. Scarce had the sun left the party than a huge red cheese of a moon rose on the starboard bow. We could have had award winning photos of a sailing ship against the red orb, if only the tanker which crossed the moon's path had been carrying sails, and if we had more sophisticated cameras than we actually did.
"Land-ho" was called at 5pm, and three hours later we found the immense cliffs of Cabo di Caccia towering above us as we took our last sunset photos and tried to get to an anchorage before it was totally dark. "Don't anchor on the sea-grass" was the repeated message from the Pilot book, so we tried our best to obey, but didn't expect the bay we had selected to be full of a new jetty and moored boats on large steel buoys. So we found an empty one and mentally "chinged the till" for €30 - better than the €50 fine for damaging any blades of sea-grass!
In fact, nobody was around in the morning, our neighbour was anchored in the grass, and not much at all was going on except on the land, where we were invited to an eco-group lunch by two charming signorinas, but could, on no account, be sold any bread. So we left after breakfast and, the wind having backed enough to be in front of us again, motored 40 miles up the coast towards the Asinara Islands, off Sardinia's north-west corner.
A few miles short of the islands, we found Berlusconi-ville. This had been visible for 15 miles along the coast, as a horizontal line chiselled into a far coastal hillside, which, through binoculars looked like pastel coloured legoland buildings. "Looks like Bob the Builder gone mad" we commented, and as the line grew closer, it did indeed prove to be a continuous row of undivided buildings painted pink, baby blue, and other shades that you expect marshmallows to be. No windows, as far as we could see, and certainly no inhabitants. So, unless this is a secret hideout for Sardinian bunga-bunga parties, it looks like another property scam about to break into the news!
Once we got past this eyesore, an enjoyable hour of finding and following leading lines got us through a shallow-ish channel between the islands with
azure water over white sand patches slipping beneath the keel. This was a nature reserve with no fishing or wild anchoring permitted, but with arrays of
mooring buoys laid by the park authority at strategic points... "Oh sorry, we haven't quite done that bit yet!", the Marine Superintendent might have replied, had we asked
where they were.
So we made a turn to the right and ended up anchored on sand in 3m of water, just 50 yards from the entrance to the Yacht Club L'Ancora - reckoned by Rod Heikell to be a "friendly club" in his Pilot book. At just the right time on a saturday night, we figured there must be something on which we could join in with.
You guessed! "No dining for the public tonight - we have a wedding to celebrate! And we cannot, on any account, sell you any bread." So we returned to the boat, sans barbequed lamb chops, sans grilled sardinas, sans rich sardinian red wine, and sans pane!
The following morning, after the heavy dew had dried, was scorchio. A quick swim in the limpid water gave an appetite for a bacon and egg breakfast, and then we set off towards Corsica and the hidden harbour of Bonifacio. Still no wind, so at least we got another good charge into the batteries during the eight-hour run across. It was a two-waypoint trip, with the second one in the cleft in the cliff that disguises the entrance to Bonifacio's excellent hidden but capacious harbour.
The harbour was full, and also expensive, so we chose the DIY moorings in the nearby Cala.
According to the pilot book, there are buoys in the middle of the cala which you lift and pull up a bow-line. Then you reverse towards the cala wall, and put a rope ashore to rings in the rocks. Sounds good! - but there were no buoys in the middle, and, having enquired of someone already moored up, the procedure now involves first going to the wall and picking up a blue slime line that leads to one of the central anchors.
Vaughan and Will went off to find a likely set of blue lines in the dinghy, while JK stayed on Voltair, ready to meet them mid-cala once they had got the goods. Half an hour later, and the slime-line party were still a rope short of a bow-line, so when one of the large RIBs from the harbour master came around, I hailed him and asked for his help. He produced a 6-inch karabiner on a length of stout chain, attached it to his heavy bow fitting with the karabiner clipped around a randomly chosen blue line, engaged reverse gear, and in a few seconds 150 horses shifted the mat of tangled blue ropes enough for him to drag one to the surface 15 yards out from the wall. Clearly we had been 148 horsepower short of a result!
Voltair was soon attached at the bow, with the wind making her lie at right angles to where she was supposed to be. Surely then, a simple matter of laying a line to a wall ring and winding it in on a winch to make the boat like as intended. Not so easy, actually, hauling 9 tons of Voltair broadside into the wind! We did it eventually, but found the stern ended up rather close to the wall, since the bow line was not as far out as it might have been, yet was going down vertically. But with the wind dropping as it does in the evening, and with the sounds of bread shops slamming their doors shut for the night, we headed for town and a sunday dinner out.
Thinking we might eat in the old town at the top of the cliff, as I had done with Tim D ten years earlier, we set off up Angina Alley, a 1-in-4 slope up towards the ramparts. Spectacular views from the top, but the gates to the old town were closed by the time we arrived, so back down to sea level and the restaurants was the only way to go. An excellent and reasonably priced meal was consumed, and our rather attractive blonde waitress even brought us 2/3 of a flute to take home, earning herself the dubious pleasure of a hug and kiss from the skipper. Sin Pan, senza Pane, mais maintenant Pain enfin!
The plan for Monday was to get fuelled up, do a bit more shopping, and then go and visit a deserted island or two in the Bouches de Bonifacio, of
which I had fond memories from my previous visit. This did not go entirely to plan, because we had not taken account of the closing of the fuel bay
between 1 and 3pm, and the closing of the chandlery from 12 to 3. The Spar supermarket was doing a roaring trade, however, and we stocked up with
everything from Merguez to Duck breasts to Camping Gaz regulators, as well as walking twice as far as necessary to find the Capitanerie and pay our
They didn't want to know about Passports, so we are still officially in Spain!
The wind had piped up somewhat and by the time we got back to the boat with our load of shopping, Voltair's rudder was now just a foot or two away from underwater rocks. It was time to get in a bit more bow line, and re-settle the boat. Impossible! The bow line just wouldn't come in, in fact, the more we pulled, the nearer to the rocks we got. There was only one thing for it - we would release the stern line, and motor full power ahead simultaneously, to get away from the rocks, and then get a new bow line, lay a new stern line and pull ourselves square once more.
Unfortunately, the warp we had chosen for a stern line had a rubber spring in it, and although we prepared the manoeuvre quite carefully, when it came to releasing the line, the rubber spring got caught in Voltair's unusual and substantial starboard aluminium fairlead, and the whole lot pinged off the stern and into the oggin as we powered away, the boat ending up safely hanging downwind on our bow-line. The water might be azure, but the air around the skipper was definitely blue when this became apparent! Will went off in the dinghy and recovered the warp, sans fairlead, getting himself rather wet in the process, but without further mishaps.
At this point, dear reader, we will leave you in suspense - rather like Will's wet trousers! Don't miss our next postcard, soon available!
Best wishes from crew of Will, Vaughan and John K