13. Las Palmas, Gran Canaria to Orangestad, Aruba 2023

Sunday 19th November 2023, 28:7.38N 15:25.39W

We have been in Las Palmas forever spending money on parts as fast as we can and loading up with huge amounts of food, but the big day has finally arrived and the ARC 2023 Las Palmas to St Lucia Rally starts today. Friends Mayk and Peter came to see us off and we had some celebratory fizzy before joining the queue to get out of the marina.

Not for the first time, Graptolite crossed the race start line with a recently discovered major defect. In 2007 we started with a mainsail on deck and in-mast furling parts dropped inside the mast. A problem solved by sheltering in an island wind-shadow and poking about inside the mast with a coathook and chewing gum to fish out essential fittings. Keeping with tradition, this time we crossed the start line with a non-working autopilot. For those not familiar with boats, this is a disturbing problem which involves needing to arm-wrestle with the ship’s wheel 24 hours a day for several weeks. This partly explains why we ended up crossing the start line twice in very light winds. After a couple of hours work with cable ties, the problem was mostly fixed to everyone’s relief. It still makes an unpleasant clanking noise where a control chain catches as the boat rolls but it needs the boat to be still to adjust.

Monday 20th November 2023, 26:28.57N 15:36.1W

Some hours were spent today trying to get one of the heads to flush. It turned out that during a recent refit the seawater intake was reconnected to a seacock above the waterline. At least during a slight list to starboard. Creeping along in light winds somewhere at the middle back of the fleet we were hit by a rogue gust, and we discovered that our speediness in handling sails left something to be desired as we tipped over and noisily gybed. Some of the problem was the genoa furling system which was sticking. Team building at its best.

Tuesday 21st November 2023, 24:14.15N 17:51.35W

The genoa furling system was found to have lost a part of its mechanism and was essentially stuck fully unfurled. The first attempt at fixing it, which was only slightly successful, had us constructing a new furling drum from the lid of a grey plastic food crate. Darkness stopped play with only half of the sail able to be furled. No fish today even though I had my best pink rubber squid out. In the darkness most of our navigation lights failed to come on which marked the end of a perfect day and will keep us busy tomorrow.

Wednesday 22nd November 2023, 23:7.10N 19:3.45W

The day was spent almost entirely hanging over the bow trying to get the genoa to furl. Additional parts of the Furlex went to the bottom in the process as the attraction between seawater, tools and equipment bits is strong in these waters but the new furling drum we made from a plastic crate seems to be doing the trick.

There was a good sing-along in the cockpit in the evening including recordings of well-known songs with lyrics butchered to include mention of “Graptolite” which we made on the 2007 crossing.

Friday 24th November 2023, 21:08.710N 021:28.746W

We caught a reasonable sized mahi-mahi today which was turned into sashimi for dinner. The meat was firmer than I remember. Maybe the next mahi-mahi will be cooked as kebabs and we will stick to yellow-fin for eating raw.

An exciting late evening was spent untangling the improvised genoa furler with the line slipped off the improvised spool. We are not doing too well with our fleet position as we are nursing both damaged steering gear and the furler so we have decided to run into Mindelo to make repairs. Mindelo is a port we know well from our cruise ship travels and we were there most recently in March of this year so it holds no particular attraction for us but hopefully we can fix things so that every clanking noise from the wheel does not sound like the end of our ability to steer.

Monday 27th Nov 2023 to Wednesday 6th Dec 2024, Mindelo, Cape Verde 17:07.631N 024:47.210W

Repairs to steering and furling gear. Very slow and the delay put us at the back of the race except for those that turned back to Las Palmas.

18th Dec 2023, arr. Rodney Bay, St Lucia 14:04.462N 060:56.944W

Anchored in Rodney Bay overnight and entered the marina in the morning to the sound of cheers, airhorns and the clink of glasses of rum punch.

Thursday 21st Dec 2023 to Thurs 27th Dec 2023, Rodney Bay, St Lucia to Tobago Cays, St Vincent, Grenadines 12:38.999N 061:21.400W

After a short break in Rodney Bay, we continued on with our first overnight mooring in Pitons Bay and then on to the Grenadines stopping in Bequia and then on to Tobago Cays for Christmas. We moored for a few days in a turtle watching reserve near Baradal Island. We also anchored in Carnash Bay, on the island of Mayreau and at Sandy Island near Carriacou and we cleared-out at Clifton, Union Island.

Thursday 28th Dec 2023 to 3rd Jan 2024, Union Island, Grenadines to Orangestad, Aruba 12:29.897N 070:01.056W

The three-night crossing close to the Venezuelan coast was a bit worrying but uneventful and we arrived safely at Harbour Village Marina, Kralendijk, Bonaire in time for New Year. On New Years Day we sailed on to Spanish Water, Willemstad, Curacao and late the next day we arrived at Aruba. Over the radio we were directed by the Coastguard to cross the barrier reef and into the very shallow lagoon to clear-in at Barcadera Port. As it was getting dark, we ignored this and found our own temporary anchorage near the old refinery until daylight. I crossed the same reef in the dark in 2008 at the direction of the very same Coastguard when we had no engine, no charts and no instruments due to a small electrical fire. It was the scariest bit of sailing I have ever done, and I had no intention of repeating it. The next morning after clearing in with Immigration and Customs we crept through the shallow lagoon to Varadero Marina where we expect to stay until early March.

H returned to work 6th January by stepping on to the AIDAperla cruise ship tied up in Orangestad. It was all carefully planned if you think it just an amazing coincidence!

For the next two weeks, I serviced and fixed stuff on the boat. The marina is on a strip of land right next to the airport runway but very inconveniently located for getting into town or even to the airport terminal building without taking a taxi. It is not far to town by dinghy but the lagoon is usually too rough to keep clothes dry. Trips to supermarkets and chandlers can only be realistically done by renting a car. Everything works in slow motion here.

Saturday 20th Jan 2024 AIDAperla, Orangestad to Willemstad

H arrived back at the Orangestad cruise ship terminal on AIDAperla after a two-week circuit of the Caribbean and I went aboard for breakfast. Later, I took H and her boss Kapitän Andreas, to see Grapto and I barbequed some lunch. After lunch we drove the Kapitän back to the ship and after returning the rental car, H and I re-boarded AIDAperla for an overnight sail to Willemstad, Cuacao. Partly, this was so I could collect some parts for the boat that had been hand-carried for us from Germany to Curacao by one of H’s colleagues.

Sunday 21st Jan 2024 Willemstad, Curacao

The original plan was that I fly back to Aruba after an overnight stay on Curacao, but all flights were fully booked so I needed two nights. The first night I stayed in the excellent and quirky Scuba Lodge hotel overlooking a surprisingly rough sea and the nighttime departure of AIDAperla steaming out of Willemstad lit up like a Christmas tree.

Monday 22nd Jan 2024, Willemstad, Curacao

During the day I wandered the tropical Dutch streets of Willemstad with the other tourists sampling various colours of cocktails in street cafes. The infamous blue curacao, and other colours, would seem to be a kind of triple sec and perfect for a festive frozen margherita. In the evening I took a taxi to the unlovely Curacao Airport Hotel.

Tuesday 23rd Jan 2024, Varadero Marina, Orangestad, Aruba

In the very early morning, I walked the short distance to the airport from the hotel. Got a small plane for the twenty-minute flight to Aruba and got a taxi back to the marina and went back to my real job of organizing boat repairs. We still have some issues with navigation lights, some of the running rigging needs replacing and H wants a night-vision camera fitted to the mast.

12. Split to Gran Canaria 2023

This is a voyage from Split, Croatia, where we had a major refit done, to Las Palmas, Gran Canaria from where we intend to cross the Atlantic with the ARC in November 2023. The route took us through the western Mediterranean around the foot of Italy, Sicily, Sardinia, Balearics, mainland Spain, Gibraltar, Atlantic Morocco and the Canary Islands.

26.04.2023 Split, Croatia, 43:32.7N 16:24.0E

Over the past seven months Grapto has had a big upgrade.

Some of items were replacements for existing blue-water equipment like the watermaker and the diesel generator that did not survive being badly serviced in distant countries. Some of the items were just normal wear and tear replacements like new standing and running rigging, new upholstery, canvas work and decking. Other things were because the owners have had their own wear and tear problems and need a little assistance such as with a remote anchor switch and a bow thruster. Yet other things are admittedly just ridiculous luxuries to put in such an old boat like air-conditioning and a fancy sound system.

By far, the most expensive stuff was an upgrade to the navigation electronics but I’m sure it will become a valued crew member once we work out how to use it. Phone apps control access to the remote navigation screen, the fuel and water tank levels and music system. Other apps monitor the solar panel output, bow thruster and house batteries. It is all giving us a steeper learning curve than we would wish at our age.

Except for some jobs we can do on the way we are ready to put to sea now. The complete journey is intended to be be “Around the World 2” but we will break it down into smaller runs through the Mediterranean until the Atlantic. This first run, as a kind of sea trial, will be to the Croatian island of Vis. Howling winds have delayed our departure but we should be going tomorrow.

27.04.2023 Vis, Croatia, 43:04.01N 16:11.54

We finally left Split in good weather. After a couple of hours, we noticed some bad flooding in the engine space caused by a leaking wet exhaust and so we diverted to Hvar and found a mooring buoy. Renato called us a boat repair service. It turned out to be a new exhaust clamp that was too big to tighten enough. We continued on to the island of Vis and I worked on a blocked holding tank on the way and we anchored for the night.

28.04.2023 Vieste, Italy, 41:53.7N 016:10.19E

We fuelled up in Vis and headed out across the Adriatic. There were strong headwinds, so it was just motoring. We intended to stop at an interesting looking island called Palagruza, halfway across but it turned out to be just a dangerous looking rock with a lighthouse. We decided to continue on to Manfredonia, Italy arriving after dark to anchor in as sheltered a spot as we could find off the port of Vieste. Almost immediately an Italian Customs RIB roared up a spent the next hour taking our details. Long day and a rolly night.

29.04.2023 Trani, Italy, 41:17.10N 16:25.19E

There was water in the bilge yesterday and we had no good explanation for it so this morning we took out some furniture and lifted the floor in the main cabin to investigate. We still have no real idea where the water is coming from, but it seems to have stopped rising. We sailed on south across the Gulf of Manfredonia. The weather was cold with light rain but almost no wind. We stopped just before dark at the port of Trani and anchored on the north side of the breakwater. We will not be going into the town but from the sea the place looks to be worth a visit with a castle, cathedral and campanili.

30.04.2023 Brindisi, Italy, 40:38.4N 017.56.8E

A cold day motoring south to Brindisi. Brindisi is a place we know fairly well having parked up here for a while on the way to Venice in 2010 and also it was the final stop of H’s Berlin to Brindisi cycle ride in 2020. We berthed alongside the harbour wall in the middle of town at the base of the steps leading up to the two Roman columns that symbolically represent the end of the Appian Way. Unfortunately, they have added large black rubber bumpers to the wall which we knew would mark our hull and they did. As we were tying up, H entertained a small group of Sunday evening promenaders with sailing stories using broken Italian. We climbed the steps to the Roman columns, this time without a bicycle, and then went to eat pizza.

01.05.2023 Otranto, Italy, 40:08.98N 018:29.38E

A rough day motoring against strong headwinds. There were no berths in the harbour of Otranto so we anchored inside the harbour for the night. It was our 8th Wedding Anniversary.

02.05.2023 Santa Maria di Leuca, Italy, 39:47.68N 018:21.70E

Another hard day against the wind and big waves. We knew that even worse weather was coming and we needed shelter in the marina at Leuca. There were no berths that we could use in the marina so we parked against the concrete of the sea wall with the big trawlers. We had to move a boat length when another 20m trawler arrived but apart from that it looked to be a relatively sheltered spot. We bought some shrimp, monkfish and mackerel from the trawler and I made a bouillabaisse for dinner. The storm hit that evening with near hurricane strength winds. There were waves over the big sea wall and in the early hours we had a mooring line snap.

03.05.2023 Santa Maria di Leuca, Italy, 39:47.68N 018:21.70E

There was no way to continue over the Bay of Taranto to meet Dawn and Adam in Catania. The weather was far too nasty. We spent the day bouncing on the mooring and doing some work on the boat. One of the jobs was fitting some personal AIS beacons to our lifejackets. These are emergency Man Overboard beacons that are set off when a lifejacket inflates. They send a digital alert to the VHF radio on the boat, get a GPS fix and transmit the location to suitably equipped boats so that the Man Overboard can be located. As these beacons, radio and chartplotters are all new we tested them carefully according to the manual. The radio test is only supposed to go our own radio, like a phone call, and the AIS test should say “MOB Test”. Twenty minutes later we were surprised to have the Italian Coastguard knocking on the boat and wanting to know if it was us sending distress messages. We have yet to find out what happened.

04.05.2023 Le Castella, Italy, 38:54.76N 017:02.11E

Crossed the Gulf of Taranto in light winds but a very bouncy swell following the earlier storm. We passed Crotone and could see the gas production platforms there. I worked briefly on an exploration rig there in my early career. We have been to Crotone by cruise ship several times since so it was no problem to push on to an anchorage at Le Castella.

05.05.2023 Bova Marina, Italy, 37:55.60N 015:55.83E

We pushed on down the “sole” of Italy in fine weather to be in a position to cross to Catania, Sicily the following morning. It is a spectacular mountainous coast. The anchorage was quiet.

06.05.2023 Catania, Italy, 37:29.97N 015:05.90E

Crossed over to Sicily towards a snow-capped Mount Etna and arrived at Catania in the early afternoon. Cousin Dawn and Adam met us on the pontoon and we went shopping for food and some chandlery things. We then all had dinner in Catania.

07.05.2023 Vulcano, Italy, 38:22.12N 014:59.80E

An early start and we motored up the east side of the Straits of Messina under the lower slopes of Etna and many villages perched dramatically high in the cliffs. We refuelled in Riposto. We passed the Roman town of Taormina playing “Lights of Taormina” by Mark Knopfler at high volume. Closer to Messina, the shipping lanes became much busier and the crossing ferries more frequent. The current from the north strengthened dramatically approaching the narrowest part of the straights then suddenly we were out in the Tyrrhenian Sea. We headed towards a group of volcanic islands, including Stromboli, and anchored for the night on the steep underwater southeastern flank of Vulcano.

08.05.2023 Ustica, Sicily, 38:42.47N 013:11.70E

Arrived before dark in the tiny port of the small island of Ustica and took on fuel. Usica lies about 35NM north of Palermo. It was formerly a prison during Italy’s fascist period.

At first we were stern-to on the fuel berth and tied alongside a fishing boat but the fishing boat was going to have an early departure so after we decided to stay for the night we found a mooring buoy to hold us off the wall.

10.05.2023 Sant’Antioco, Sardinia, Italy, 39:03.33N 08:28.01E

We had an overnight sail intending to reach Carloforte island to be ready for a hop to the Balearics but the weather was nasty with 25+ knots of wind on the nose.

Overnight some small yellow birds travelled with us, mostly sat on shoulders like minature parrots. One must have been very exhausted and died so we gave it a burial at sea slid out from under a Montenegro flag as it has a bird in the design.

11.05.2023 Porto Ponte Romana, Sardinia, Italy, 39:3.46N 08:28.26E

We moved a short distance from the fuel berth into a military port full of coast guard, customs and police boats of various sizes. Nobody has complained. We are waiting for the weather to clear to go to Palma de Majorca. There is a very strong Mistral forecast until about Wednesday. Dawn and Adam plan to leave for England on Tuesday.

15.05.2023 Sant’Antioco, Sardinia, Italy, 39:3.27N 8:28.04E

Dawn and Adam left for Cagliari on Monday morning for a flight home on Tuesday.

We attempted to find a larger alternator at a boatyard in Sant’Antioco and they sent an electrician to check our existing alternator which proved to be more functional than expected. My guess now is that some “smart” circuitry in the battery, inverter, bow thruster system is to blame for shutting down the alternator. They said we could come to the boatyard for a more detailed investigation. The boatyard was only a short distance from where we were but it was a hairy trip with the Mistral wind strengthening by the minute. We were bouncing on the berth overnight.

16.05.2023 Sant’Antioco, Sardinia, Italy, 39:3.27N 8:28.04E

On the boatyard berth waiting out the weather.

17.-19.05.2023 Cala Millor, Majorca, Spain, 39:37.819N 3:24.321E

We thought we could see a break in the relentless and strong Mistral winds from the north so we set out to somewhere in the Balearics on Wednesday evening. The winds were as expected but the waves were very big and mainly across the deck. We snagged an escaped lobsterpot at one point but it freed itself when threatened with a knife. About 100 miles out, the engine spluttered to a halt and the diesel generator followed soon after. It looks like our diesel tank had taken in seawater through a poorly fitting filler cap. We were thrown back to 18th Century sailing technique on our second night out as we approached the island of Menorca. We struggled to keep north and soon the port of Mahon became impossible to reach. H and I had short watches but we were becoming very tired trying to reach anchorages on the south, hopefully more sheltered, coast. These anchorages also turned out to be difficult to reach upwind as we had some problems with untried sails. We are not really heavy-weather sailors and usually resort to the engine unless there a nice breezes behind so this was all too scary. The island of Majorca lay to our south and we turned down wind hoping to be able to find a bay and it was with some relief that we dropped anchor near Cala Millor on the NE coast.

20.-21.05.2023 Cala Millor, Majorca, Spain, 39:37.819N 3:24.321E

We are still at anchor assessing our options and trying to do repairs. Repairs are not working, mainly due to my limited skills with diesel engines but I have removed the seawater from the diesel tank. There were about 5 litres. I’ve also changed the filters on both the main engine and the generator. Neither are showing signs of life and corrosion will be setting in by now in expensive places.

We intend to sail out of here to a marina and professional repairs as soon as the winds are favourable. This should be more than exciting. The last time I sailed engineless into a port was in 2008 when I had an electrical fire off Aruba.

22.05.2023 Cala d’Or, SW Majorca, Spain, 39:22.154N 3:13.908E

After contacting several local Volvo-Penta dealers we discovered that they were too busy to be bothered with our little problems. A Yanmar dealership in Portocolom said they could help but we had to get there.

We sailed off our remote anchorage and headed down the coast. The entrance to the Portocolom is narrow with 20m high cliffs on each side. We came in on a tack that could take us to an anchorage inside but between the cliffs the wind shifted dramatically, first sending us close to the southern wall then then to the north then pushing us back out. We gave up at this point and turned downwind to go south along the coast. The southwest coast of Majorca has many pretty branching rocky inlets but without an engine and in stiff wind they are very scary. One such inlet is the port of Cala d’Or. We had no wish to sail overnight again so we chose a branch of the inlet near to the entrance and managed to drop the anchor in 10m of bouncy water. The inlet was about 100m wide with the usual cliffs topped by very expensive white-painted houses. Our tiny kedge anchor was dropped over the stern in case the wind shifted and we battened down the hatches for the night.

23.05.2023 Portocolom, SW Majorca, Spain, 39:25.219N 3:15.757E

The wind direction gave us no possibility to sail off this location and we had to get back to Portocolom for repairs. We devised a plan to rent a large RIB and tow ourselves back up the coast to Portocolom. H rowed our dinghy to a beach at the head of our inlet, abandoned it there and got a taxi into the centre of Cala d’Or. She roared back to the boat an hour later with a 250hp RIB. The wind was strengthening. We rigged up some towing lines and found enough power in the batteries to raise the anchor and after a few scares with jammed anchor chain and engines cutting out, we were off in 15-20kt northwesterly winds to Portocolom 4NM away. It was a tough tow. The weight of Grapto was easily enough to pull the stern of the RIB into unexpected directions. We anchored briefly in the harbour to rearrange the lines and scout out a berth. We then crashed alongside on an uncharted floating pontoon scaring the charter boat neighbours into helping tie up. We were back onshore after almost a week afloat with no engine.

We returned the RIB to Cala d’Or, collected the dinghy from the beach, moving sunbathers out of our way, and took a taxi back to Portocolomb. Miraculously some Yanmar mechanics showed up and an hour later the generator was working again. The main engine needed a new fuel pump and the mechanics departed with a promise to return mañana.

It turned out that some fuel pipes were jammed up with a handful of black plastic shavings from the tank cutting to install new tank sensors. It was probably that that killed the newish fuel pump. There was also the seawater ingress problem which we need to fix before the next heavy weather.

We were too tired to find a restaurant.

24.05.2023 Portocolom, SW Majorca, Spain, 39:25.219N 3:15.757E

A quiet day sorting things out. Tapas restaurant for dinner.

25.05.2023 Isla Cabrera, Spain, 39:9.058N 2:55.5.80E

We departed Portocolom under engine and sailed downwind to Cabrera and found a mooring buoy under the shadow of the dramatic Castell de Cabrera . It’s an uninhabited island apart from National Park people who managed to extract an outragous 280€ from us for the night. To be fair, it was the only unreserved buoy left and was priced to extract money from larger boats than ours.

26.05.2023 Formentara, Spain, 38:41-862N 1:23.184E

Anchored off Formentara, south of Ibiza.

27.05.2023 Calpe, Costa Blanca, Spain, 38:38.277N 0:3.834E

We had a rough crossing from Formentara to mainland Spain. We were driven below deck at one point by water over the deck and kept watch on a ipad while the local fishing fleet circled around towing enormous structures behind on long lines.

We arrived at Calpe and before we could anchor we were told we were on a yacht race finish line and had to move. We discovered we had a problem with the saildrive clutch at this point and it took a lifetime to engage gear just moments before a dozen giant carbon-fibre sails bore down on us. We anchored outside the port in a large swell.

28.05.2023 near Cartagena, Spain, 37:34.569N 0:52.577W

We anchored for the night in a small bay tucked in a mountainous coast east of Cartagena.

29.05.2023 Castillo de San Ramon, Spain, 36:51.664N 2:0.127W

We found a small bay to anchor in for the night. There were four other boats sharing. It was a nice sheltered spot and a lucky last minute choice for us. Apart from the towering rocky cliffs the main feature of the bay is a fortress called Castillo de San Ramon.

30.05.2023 Adra, Costa Almeria, Spain, 36:44.593N 3:0.957W

Yesterday, we crossed the line of longitude of the Hamble River, my point of departure in August 2007 to sail around the world. So it took me the best part of 16 years to go the 360 degrees completely around the planet skippering Graptolite. We had a little celebration but technically I’m supposed to return to the point of departure or at least cross the route. The path crossing is likely to be somewhere off the coast of Atlantic Morocco but I think I will declare the finish to be Las Palmas, Gran Canaria. Las Palmas will also be the point of departure for circumnavigation 2 beginning 19th November. All former crew, that are still living, are invited for drinkies sometime to be confirmed between 20th and 30th June in Las Palmas. Lori and Colin, you were a big part of this trip and you will both be missed.

We anchored outside the uninspiring harbour of Adra near the beach.

31.05.2023 Malaga, Spain, 36:42.719N 4:24.679W

Anchored outside the harbour of Malaga just off the beach. The saildrive clutch is too unreliable to risk the marina.

01.06.2023 Gibraltar, 36:8.139N 5:21.342W

We had to have an almost continuous watch dodging pot-markers along this coast. They seem to have no regulations about making these things visible with flags or bright colours. Many are just dark plastic bottles. Our AIS transponder came back to life briefly as we were talking to a Raymarine man but was soon dead again. Shipping in the Straits of Gibraltar is fairly heavy and it would have been nice to have.

We arrived at Queensway Quay Marina. The stern-to berthing was difficult with our gear selector problem but we only had the usual minor rattling of outboard motors against neighbouring boats. We will get Volvo Penta and Raymarine technicians to sort our stuff out in the morning.

We went to Moniques Bistro near the marina for dinner and had fish and chips and a bottle of white wine.

18.06.2023 Tangier, Morocco, 35:47.04N 5:47.85E

After parking up for a while in Gibraltar and side trips to the UK and Germany we were ready to leave. We had a last minute shop in Morrison’s for British delicacies like pork pies and Vimto and we were off.

The tides, currents and winds in the Straits of Gibraltar are a bit complicated with tidal streams often going in opposite directions. With the help of tide tables and a tidal stream atlas borrowed from a neighbour we shaped a course across the busy Traffic Separation Scheme to the Moroccan side and attempted to steer around patches of charted turbulent water. There was a nasty yellow Sahara duststorm of the horizon followed by grape-sized hailstones. Welcome to Africa.

Something that has been giving H kittens for a while is being attacked by orcas. This is an increasingly common thing in these parts and a number of yachts have been sunk. Our main strategy was to play dead with no autopilot and depth sounder. Others say run for it. It is hard to know what our reaction would have been seeing our rudder bitten off. Fortunately we had no sightings of dorsal fins except for dolphin. I did strap a diving knife to a boathook as last-ditch defence like Captain Ahab. It probably would have had the same result.

We arrived in Tanja Marina Bay, firstly topping up fuel then moving on to the reception pontoon for clearance with Immigration and Customs and like in the movie we waited and waited and waited. We never did get to a real berth and we were still on the reception pontoon in the morning. The electrical connections were of an enormous size I had never seen before and we were too far from the normal berths to get WiFi

19.06.2023 Banco Arlett, Morocco, 34:40.04N 7:23.91W

We sailed down the coast. They have huge tunny fishing nets in this part of the world. They stretch for miles. These things can only be avoided in daylight and even then you have to be careful. There are no harbours, or even anchorages down this coast. The choices are to go well offshore and sail overnight or stay inshore and anchor. Anchoring is not allowed anyway but we had little choice and we found a place about 10m deep in Sahara desert sand. It was a lee shore and offered almost no protection but the weather held for us.

20.-21.06.2023 Yacht Club du Maroc, Mohammedia, Morocco, 33:42.78N 7:23.91W

We sailed out of our unprotected lee shore anchorage. Almost immediately, we were radioed by a large Royal Moroccan Navy ship who wanted a word. They had been hanging about all night on the seaward side of some tunny nets as we had turned our radio off for just such an eventuality. A filthy paint-spattered RIB turned up with four naval-typed wearing an odd assortment of uniform and civilian clothes. A young officer boarded, and we filled in some forms again. He was very pleasant and apologetic about it. When he heard we were going to Casablanca, his home town, we exchanged private phone numbers in case we needed any help. There was no mention of our illegal anchoring.

We sailed south in mostly nice weather towards Casablanca. Only colourful wood fishing boats were seen all day. Re-reading the charts and guides we had for Casablanca, we realized that the marina was closed and there were no clearance facilities for yachts. We rerouted to the port of Mohammedia, 15NM away. we were directed to a finger-berth and were boarded by Immigration, Customs and Harbour Master. All very pleasant if a little intimidating. Too tired to go into town we settled for watching a DVD of Humphrey, Ingrid, Claude et al in “Casablanca”.

In the morning we took a taxi to downtown Casablanca intending to look at the Hassan II Mosque but it was closed so we went for lunch in the Dar Dada restaurant. It is an old riad building and the Moroccan food was excellent.

Then a taxi to the airport to collect friend Mayk and then back to Casablanca to, inevitably, dine at Rick’s Cafe. An homage to the movie, obviously, but ít was reasonably tasteful if expensive with good non-Moroccan food.

22.06.2023 Puerto de Jorf Lasfar, Morocco, 33:07.59N 8:37.45W

We called into a very dirty industrial port of Jorf Lasfar and tied up against a rusty dredger to do the formalities. The boat was quickly covered in phosphate dust and other muck. The officials are usually very pleasant about it but the system needs a serious overhaul if this country hopes to attract anyone other than boats passing through as quickly as possible. Every port requires clearing in and clearing out and with a parade of people all waving forms that need the same information. They seem to have stopped demanding to know how many children you have since I was last in Morocco.

23.06.2023 Safi, Morocco, 32:18.32N 9:14.91W

Arrived at the industrial port of Safi and tied up against the usual rusty wreck for formalities. Safi is an important place on this journey as for various reasons it happens to be the crossing-of-the-line for my first circumnavigation. I was last here in Graptolite, 5th November 2007. We did have some champagne here but I will designate Las Palmas a more suitable official ending for the circumnavigation.

24.06.2023 Essaouria, Morocco, 31:30.27N 9:46.30W

We sailed out of Safi early in the morning through a sea of rubbish in the water. We sailed towards Essaouria and attempted to go into the small port but it was completely jammed with fishing boats. We couldn’t raise the Habour Master on the radio so we anchored outside the port between the noisy beach and the breakwater. Without clearance and shore passes we could have found ourselves in a bit of trouble so we stayed aboard and departed early in the morning in thick fog.

25.06.2023 Agadir, Morocco, 30:25..28N 9:37.05W

Arrived in Agadir Marina and took Mayk to a hotel for and early departure back to Germany and ate at the Villa Blanche restaurant. H and I left in thick fog again towards the Canary Islands with the precise landfall to be determined by the weather.

27.06.2023 Playa Mujeres, Lanzarote, Canary Islands, 28:51.21N 13:47.72W

The weather was deteriorating and we needed to get to Las Palmas before things got bad. We thought about going in to the marina at Arrecife and also the marina Rubicon at the south end of the island but neither were going to work for a late arrival and early departure so we anchored off a beach to the west of Rubicon.

28.06.2023 Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, 28:7.65N 15:25.49W

Arrived at the reception berth at Puerto Deportivo De Las Palmas and stayed overnight. The following morning we moved onto the berth where we will be until the ARC in November.

03.-08.07.2023 Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, Spain, 28:7.65N 15:25.49W

Ian and Liz Crabree came to stay on Graptolite to celebrate my circumnavigation. Ian and Liz were crew on Graptolite for the 2007ARC and for some later cruising in the Caribbean in 2008. Heike represented all the crew from the South Pacific and Mediterranean. We did a small circumnavigation of Gran Canaria by car, ate lots of fish and serviced my winches.

The 2007ARC reunion crew was missing only Lori Murdock. Lori died of cancer in 2015. Colin Laidlaw, along with Heike, crewed for the crossing of the South Pacific in the 2008-10 WorldARC. Colin also died of cancer in 2017. Fair winds to you both, Lori and Colin.

11. Preveza to Split 2022

Engine repair and launch at Preveza

Graptolite spent the best part of four years in the boatyard of Cleopatra Marina in Preveza mostly due to Covid lockdowns. Idleness like this does a boat no good at all and we had some bad problems with sticky bacteria clogging up the fuel tank and fuel lines and corrosion in the engine. The engine was so bad that I even bought a new engine from a Volvo-Penta dealer in Lefkas, but they were unable to deliver it in a reasonable time and I got my money back. We went back to Plan A which was to try to get the old engine running again. The engine was lifted out of the boat on September 10th and put back in again twelve days later. We rigged up a temporary 70 litre fuel tank with a lot of jerrycans of diesel. After reconnecting the engine, on September 24th we launched and sailed to nearby Preveza Marina to wait for the electrician to fit a new alternator. Work was completed the following Monday and we sailed out into the Ionian Sea. About 5 miles out the engine overheated and the batteries were not charging. I poured a bucket of water in the seawater filter which fixed the overheating problem and later I found a battery isolation switch left in the wrong position. Apart from that, the old engine was as good as new.

North to Corfu, Albania and Montenegro

By evening we reached Gouvia Marina in Corfu where we stopped for the night and topped up with diesel. At first light we sailed along the mountainous and bleak coast of Albania. As night fell we anchored for a few hours in a remote bay near Vlore hoping not to be boarded by the Albanian coastguard. The following day we crossed into Montenegro waters and tried another nap in a remote bay but with less success. As we were crossing the Croatian border we were chased by a Montenegro police launch and taken into Kotor to pay a small fine for not spending half a day and a lot of money on the official formalities. They clearly watch all bays very closely. It actually turned out to be cheaper and quicker than doing things properly but we will probably go via the Italian coast next time.

Arriving in Croatia for lift-out

We did clear into Croatia in Dubrovnik in the authorized way and spent the night in Marina Frapa. By coincidence, the cruise ship that H has been working on, the AIDAblu, on was also in port and we invited the Captain, Peter Schade, over for breakfast. As we were sailing out of Dubrovnik port we had a salute on the ship’s horn. This is apparently a great honour as it is normally reserved for captains leaving the ship. Our next overnight stop was a bay on the island of Korcula and the following day we arrived at Marina Kastela which was our final stop before hauling out for a refit. If the money holds up we intend to get a bow-thruster fitted, new standing rigging, new upholstery and mattresses, new navigation instruments and radar and new decking. The boat is 21 years-old this year and has done over 60,000NM so she deserves a facelift.

Lift-out was on October 7th and we flew back to Berlin on the 8th.

10. Ionian Sea, Corfu, Greece, Albania 2018-2022

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Lido di Jesolo, Italy to Preveza, Greece, May 2018

During early May 2018 we relaunched Graptolite at Porto Turistico di Jesolo and Heike and I together with friend Hilmar set off south down the Adriatic to a new home in Greece.

It was about 700NM and we had a few overnight stops in Croatia and had an overnight passage skirting around the 12 mile limit off Albania to Corfu. Albania has had a bad rap in recent years for being difficult to clear into and having thieves run off with your kit.

In Corfu, we anchored off the Old Fortress but had some trouble with the starter motor and I had to tow Grapto with the dinghy into NAOK marina. Some very helpful guys there got us going again by whacking the motor with a hammer.

Hilmar left for home and Heike and I sailed on south to Preveza where we wanted to check out Cleopatra Marina as a winter berth. We arrived in the dark and anchored about 100 metres from the marina entrance. The next morning the starter motor wouldn’t respond to any amount of hammering and we had to have another tow from the marineros onto a pontoon. The name Cleopatra Marina is not quite as twee as it sounds. It is a homage to the sea battle of Actium (31BC) which was nearby. This was a fight between Octavian and the combined forces of Mark Anthony and Cleopatra. Octavian won.

Preveza, Paxos, Lefkada, Meganisi, Vonitsa June 2018

Heike left to go to work and I pottered about at anchor until early June when John and Alison came to the boat for week. We meandered about, first going north to Paxos and then south to  Lefkada and Meganisi then north again to Vonitsa in the bay of Amvrakikos near Preveza. The only mini-disaster was the engine over-heating while we in the Lefkas Canal. There was a strong cross-wind and we drifted gently into some rocks in the few minutes the engine was off while I got the airlock out of the seawater cooling system. A few scrapes on the anti-fouling but nothing serious.

Corfu, July 2018

I sailed single-handed back to Corfu after that and then hung around NAOK marina for most of the rest of June and July except for a quick trip to Norway. NAOK was initially free-of-charge for some legal dispute reason but then they started charging and I went back to anchoring in the bay. The marina had no facilities anyway except for a concrete wall to bang into when the swell from the big ships comes.

Sarande, Albania, August 2018

Heike came back in early August and we had a sail to Sarande, Albania. We took in some tourist sites there. One was the very popular Blue Eye spring. Very cold water. Another was the Greek, Roman, Medieval archaeological site of Butrint. Albania turned out to be very pleasant. We had to employ a shipping agent for the formalities, which is a bit unusual in this part of the world, and we were expected to berth near the port police station but apart from that everyone was very nice. including the chap who helped Heike use a local ATM. After leaving Albania we did a circumnavigation anticlockwise around Corfu and then south to Paxos and on to Preveza for the haul out for winter.

Preveza, 2019

2019 was very busy for us with non-sailing travel (see www.chaos-travel.com) and we missed the season.

Preveza, 2020

During 2020, COVID-19 put a stop to visits to Greece. We booked and paid for a lot of time in Preveza Marina. Hopefully, we have not lost that money.

Preveza, 2021

COVID-19 is still doing its thing. The last update here is May 2021 and still it’s not really possible to get back to Preveza although Greece claims to be open. I am waiting on my second Astra-Zeneca which will be in July. Hopefully we can go then with a Covid passport but Grapto is likely to be uninhabitable after so long. Earlier this year we considered selling and getting a motor yacht but it didn’t work out and we are now intending to completely refit the old girl with new navigation electronics and other kit.

Preveza, 2022

From May to September, I spent many weeks, months, onboard in the scorching heat of Cleopatra Marina boatyard trying to bring the old girl back to life. Admittedly, this was alternated with cruise ship runs through the Ionian, Aegean and Adriatic Seas (see www.chaos-travel.com) . The biggest frustration was after servicing the engine and having bits replaced it turned out that the diesel tank was gummed up with diesel bug and the oil-pan was leaking badly. I ordered a new engine but delivery would have been months away so it was cancelled and we had the old engine lifted out to see if it could be repaired. New parts for our problem are impossible to get as well so we had a used oil-pan shipped down from Split, Croatia. We are still waiting for it as I write.

09. Northern Adriatic Sea, 2011-2017

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This blog covers a long stay in Lido di Jesolo on the edge of the Venetian lagoon where cruising was mostly with various friends and family on a frequently used weekend circuit. The usual route would be to leave the Porto Turistico di Jesolo marina and go down the Fiume Sile, not infrequently getting stuck on a sandbar in the mouth of the river, and then out to sea and back into the Venice lagoon and along the Giudecca Canal cruising past St Mark’s and as far as the cruise ship port. Turning around we would then go to Murano and moor alongside in a canal there for the night. Then off to Burano to anchor for another night and return to Fiume Sile the next day. Most of the lagoon is too shallow for sailing boats, the water is very rough from all the water traffic and because of many cables buried in the mud, there are very few places to anchor so options are limited. Sometimes we stayed out of the lagoon and would sail eastwards but that coast is not very interesting. One time, we delivered my Uncle Frank and Aunt Brenda to their cruise ship by parking under the cruise ship’s bow. Security was not happy. Another time, we were not paying attention to the dates and got accidentally mixed up in the middle of the Americas Cup race off St Marks. The water police made us anchor in, perhaps, the best spectating spot available and we watched the race eating lasagne. And once I tried a late-season run south to Corfu with friends Ian and John. We got as far as mid-Croatia but gave up due to timing and weather. After almost seven years of of this unadventurous stuff we needed a change and relocated to Preveza, Greece in the Ionian Sea.

Mostly I didn’t keep a regular blog over this period. These are some of the few events I wrote down at the time. They cover a time when we we re-fitting for another around-the-world trip which we planned to do in stages during H’s cruise ship work vacations. It didn’t really happen as some health issues got in the way.

02-22.02.2016 Lido di Jesolo, Venice, Boat repairs and a visa for India

Grapto was not really fit for human habitation after so long on the hard so I stayed for a couple of nights in a hotel in Lido di Jesolo while I got things working. The main thing was new house batteries which I got in “Casa di Batteria” in Jesolo. Countless other essential bits a pieces were sourced in the local chandleries.

I had a quick trip on the ferry to St Mark’s to catch the tail end of the Carnivale in Venice. I just missed the fireworks and the whole piazza was ankle deep in confetti with a few masked revellers lying around looking stunned. I’ll make a better showing another year.

I needed a tourist visa for India so I could go ashore from H’s cruise ship in March (Plan A) I applied for an e-visa which is a wholly unnecessary bit of bureaucracy in this modern age but it turned out to be no good if arriving in India by boat. So (Plan B), I schlepped from Venice to Milan to go to the Indian Embassy to get a full-blown tourist visa. The embassy, which is just behind La Scala opera house, was stuffed with Indians trying to get home to the mother country. I think some of them had been there for days. After all kinds of adventures trying to get the specified size of passport photograph  I was told they would keep my passport for 8-15 days. With a Pakistan visa already in my passport my guess is I would be lucky to ever see my passport again. So that was a waste of two days of driving, 40 Euros in road tolls and an overnight hotel stay. Plan C is to try again in Bangkok. (Note: Bangkok didn’t work either.)

So back to working on the the boat. It rained almost continuously for two weeks and working outside with power tools is not recommended in the rain so it slowed things down a bit and soon it was time to head off to Marco Polo Airport for the flight to Abu Dhabi and Bangkok. See our trip Saigon to Venice.

13.-24.06.2016 Lido di Jesolo, Antifouling and Re-flagging

Progress was made with the antifouling. It is a nasty job but two coats of Primocon and two coats of Micron in a fetching navy blue have made it all look nice again. After four years in the boatyard Grapto was finally on the move. With a British Red Ensign and Italian and Venetian courtesy flags flying majestically she made the short voyage from the cradle into the water and was towed another 50 metres into a berth. This was Grapto’s last voyage under the “Red Duster” as she is now German-flagged but we had no actual German flag to hand. Being towed onto a berth felt a bit like we were the “Fighting Temeraire” although unlike that ship it is planned that Grapto will battle again. The reflagging was not really a “Brexit” protest, although it might have been if I had thought of it, it was just that a revised Part 1 registration suitable for my UK residency status was going to be expensive to arrange as all local marine surveyors qualified to take a tape-measure to the boat wanted several thousand euros to confirm what they could have found out from a catalogue.

08. Eastern Mediterranean, Port Said to Venice, 2009-2011

This blog begins when Graptolite emerged from the Red Sea and into the Eastern Mediterranean in the summer of 2009. First was Cyprus then some cruising around the Dodecanese Islands. Then a long stay in Turkey followed by some island hopping across the Aegean Sea, through the Corinth Canal, into the Ionian Sea then up the east coast of Italy to Venice where we arrived in 2011. Indian Ocean and Red Sea crew Steve Rowlands stayed on board until Cyprus. Heike returned to Grapto in Cyprus and was my primary crew to Venice apart from some cruising in the Dodecanese and Turkey which I did with other friends and family.

31:32.21N 032:32.09E Out of Africa, Eastern Mediterranean Sunday 7th June 2009

A pilot called Mohammed turned up and Steve and I had a days’ motor through the desert to Port Said where the pilot jumped off on to a launch, clutching his baksheesh. It was a happy moment to sail out of the harbour into the evening sun of the Mediterranean. There are a couple of days at sea for us now until Larnaca, Cyprus.

034:55.11N 033:38.43E The Full Cypriot, Larnaca Marina, Cyprus Wednesday 10th June 2009

We tied up in Larnaca Marina on Tuesday morning and rushed to the café there to order the ‘Full English’ with extra bacon and sausage. For lunch we fell in with some long-term expat Brits called Alison, John, Cathy and David in the Cyprus Offshore Yacht Club and had a good number of Carlsberg’s with them as a sort of nod to the final scenes of ‘Ice Cold in Alex’. For dinner we were recommended a restaurant down some backstreets of Larnaca where they served up the most enormous pork chops. Now we know we are really back in Christendom! Steve has just left for the airport to seek fame and fortune back in Blighty. Fair Winds, Steve. It’s been good having your scouse humour along for the last four thousand miles and seven countries. It’s been a tough trip. New crew, at least for the next few days, arrives in Larnaca tonight. This crew is not really all that new having already been a stowaway onboard for six months across the South Pacific. Welcome back Fraulein Heike.

034:55.11N 033:38.43E Mountains & Meze, Cyprus Monday 15th June 2009

I’m crewless again after a dash to the airport with Heike at 02:00 this morning. I’m left a bit sore and stiff from taking part in another one of ‘Heiki’s High-Speed Travel Adventures’ over the past few days. The Troodos Mountains have been well and truly done as has the south coast including the fleshpots of Agia Napa. Mountains of meze have also been consumed and taromosalata especially, has been taken in ridiculous quantities. Taromosalata has become a new favorite for Heike; I think it’s the pink colour. I’ll be finding space later in the corner of Grapto’s wine cellar for a case or two of Koumandaria dessert wine. On the downside; this outer part of the marina gets a bit lively at times and the stainless steel swim-ladder took a bashing, shearing off the four bolts holding it on. It’s just one more thing for the repair list.

034:55.11N 033:38.43E Land of the Midnight Sun Wednesday 24th June 2009

Well, where the devil have I been? There comes a time when a man has had enough of the tropics and craves the wide open spaces; the mountains and the clean air of the frozen north. Yes, I’ve just had a week up in the Arctic and a change is as good as a rest. I was invited to travel to Tromso, Norway on Thursday as a surprise birthday guest of Heike. The surprise was all mine. Flights took me from Larnaca to Tromso via Munich and Oslo. Tromso is a long way north (almost 70 degrees) and well inside the Arctic Circle and there is snow everywhere even at mid summer. The weather was bright, sunny and crisp and being inside the Arctic Circle stayed bright, sunny and crisp all night which was a very unsettling experience. There is a nice little harbour which looks like it would make a good stop on a future northern sailing expedition. There is also a Polar Exploration museum on the waterfront which is worth a visit if you are into badly stuffed polar bears, walrus, seals, dead sled dogs and polar explorers. They have the usual Norwegian tourist stuff in town of reindeer skins, knitwear and wooden trolls, for the tourists coming off the fjord cruise ships. A cruise ship in port on Friday was part of the reason we were there as it was yet another layer of surprise for Heike’s parents, Roland and Rosemarie, while they were on their Golden Wedding cruise to the North Cape. Heike likes to surprise people. Heike and I flew down to Trondheim for a night in the Brittania Hotel then drove down through the fjord country to Geirangerfjord. There was a Harley-Davidson Owners rally in full flow in Geiranger which made me suspicious at first as Heike is also a Harley owner but it was apparently just a coincidence. We drove on through the Jotunheimen mountains (last seen by me when I was a 16 year-old spotty Boy Scout) to Sognefjord where we stayed in the very pleasant historic Walaker Hotel at Solvorn. Driving and car-ferrying south we got to Bergen on Sunday where after another brief meeting with her parents to drink champagne near the Bryggen, (Heike and Rosemarie share the same birth date which was on Sunday), Heike
left for Germany to make some more money. Being self-unemployed I was able to stay to explore Bergen for another day. Bergen has changed a lot since I used to pass through here on the way to North Sea oilrigs in the late 70’s. The fish market in particular has become a big tourist trap with many stalls selling smoked fish, crabs, lobsters and shrimp. The last time I was here it was a very different place and I bought a bag of shrimp directly off a shrimp boat and got probably the worst dose of food poisoning I’ve ever had in my life. Thirty years later I suppose I have forgiven them and I dared to risk some more shrimp and this time had no bad effects. The return flight ‘home’ for me to Larnaca early this morning was via Copenhagen and Frankfurt with a missed flight and an unexpected day’s delay in Frankfurt while Security slowly checked that a new freshwater pump for the boat that I had in my luggage wasn’t a bomb.

A Heikiblog Sunday 28th June 2009

This is my second watch since I left Grapto about 9 months ago. We are on our way from Larnaca, Cyprus, to Rhodes, Greece. We left Cyprus after stocking up on some nice things to prepare on the way. After Martyn finally caught the attention of the Customs official (and wasn’t arrested for bad remarks about the Cypriot administration…) we sailed off into the most wonderful sunset. Memories of “Titanic moments” kept coming to my mind. Just to find out that this Odyssey had prepared a little challenge for us because the sea was really rough and I lived mostly on Stugeron. Only around noon we either caught calmer seas or I finally had accumulated the right dose in order to enjoy champagne and taramosalata together with lots of the
skipper’s attention. Martyn finally decided to creep up further to the Turkish coast in order to escape the rough weather which even soaked the front cabin bed… again! It was a perfect move since this is the first night I can really enjoy my night watch under an unbelievable dark sky with the most wonderful stars shining on Grapto. Last time I saw the stars from Grapto I even saw the Southern Cross. Different now, because I am wrapped in long trousers and skipper’s fleece since the nights in the Med seem to be much more chilly than I expected. It is pretty unusual that I see lots of ships during a night watch and the lights of Rhodes already appearing in the dark sky as well as the lights of little Turkey towns slowly fading into the dark. And it’s wonderful to feel Grapto dancing and waltzing under my feet again, slowly making her way through the waves. It’s good to be home again!, Heiki

36:27.05N 028:13.62E Rhodes Marina, Tuesday 30th June 2009

Heike came out for the weekend and we had a three-night passage from Larnaca to Rhodes. It was rough with 20 knot headwinds most of the way. We arrived at Rhodes marina early morning yesterday feeling a bit battered. Rhodes seems like a nice place with loads of medieval fortifications. We are parked in the shadow of the circular Fort of St. Nicholas in Mandraki Harbour which is one of the main contenders for where the Colossus of Rhodes used to plant his bronze sandals. The town might be Medieval but the clearing in with the Greek Authorities was positively Byzantine. A blow by blow account later.

36:27.05N 028:13.62E A Colossal Time in Rhodes, Rhodes Marina, Tuesday 30th June 2009

The Port Clearance process for Rhodes ranks up there with the worst of Southeast Asia and East Africa. And this is for an EU boat travelling between two EU countries. Makes you wonder. This account is to help out other yachts coming here. Passing the small Marine Police office next door to the Rhodes Marina Office, we carelessly called in to ask if we needed to do any paperwork having just come from Cyprus. He said he didn’t know but checked with someone on the phone and said he wanted to see ‘papers’ which turned out to mean a crew list. We made one and a stamp was duly applied. This Marine Policeman then told us to go to another Marine Police Office (10 minute walk) for another stamp. The man on reception there stamped our list again and said we had to go upstairs for a ‘Transit Log’. We had no idea what this was but went upstairs anyway. We asked some more marine police sat behind a window there for a Transit Log who said we had to go see ‘Security’ about it. We were taken past a blood-stained and probably soundproofed door marked ‘Interrogation’ to see some military type in a sweaty vest and dogtags. We mutually decided that we must be in the wrong place but he looked very annoyed that he couldn’t interrogate us. We pressed on thinking that maybe this Transit Log thing must have been a mistake and went to see the Customs and Immigration people instead who have offices in an entirely different harbour about 30 minutes walk away. We saw Customs and filled in some forms but they were mainly interested in taking their fee (20 Euros). Next, we went on to Immigration who stamped our crew list once again. They asked us if we’d got a Transit Log yet from the Marine Police. It was another long walk back. At the Marine Police office we were sent back upstairs. It was up a different staircase this time and to an unmarked room. I think it had a sign saying ‘Keep Out’ on it. The guy in there said that he wasn’t going to do anything for us until he got his ‘Taxis’. Of course we had no idea what he was talking about and he had no interest in explaining and even tried to get rid of us by saying that we had no need of such a piece of paper anyway but by now this didn’t sound right at all. We pressed him and he wrote down: “29.95 Euros”; the number “3435” and the word “TAXIS” then showed us the door. Poor Heike thought this meant we were supposed to go out find some kind of special transportation. We actually did go out and find a taxi and the driver guessed that we needed to pay some tax at a government department. He took us on a long ride across town (5 Euros) and dropped us off outside a very nasty-looking big building covered in graffiti. The inside of the building was worse. After we got no sense at several windows, the in-house snack-bar manager took pity on us and helped us find a very long payment queue which we joined. Naturally, the correct line to join first, turned out to be the line for getting a payment form issued but we sorted it out eventually. We were finally allowed to pay and took another taxi back to the Marine Police Office (6 Euros) with the receipt for the Tax (Code 3434) (29.35 Euros). The obstructive fellow with the Transit Log paperwork was by now out at lunch so we had to see his deputy who turned out (surprise, surprise) to be the first Marine Policeman we saw on reception. We still don’t know what a Transit Log is for, why the officials who give them out are so secretive about where you are supposed to pay for it and anyway why they can’t be trusted to collect the 29.35 Euros cash themselves. We had a wander though the very nice towers, walls, churches, shops and restaurants of the Old Town this morning. Heike left this afternoon and yet more crewpersons arrive tomorrow.

36:25.02N 027:23.17E Greek Island Hopping, Tilos, Dodecanese. Tuesday 7th July

Sarah and Mario came out to Rhodes last Wednesday. The weather was a bit breezy so we stayed in Rhodes and explored the castle walls, museums and tavernas of the Old Town. They have been bravely trying to teach me how to play the ukulele. Sarah is a certified Official World Record Holder for ukulele playing (along with 851 others players). On Sunday we set off from Rhodes to go to the island of Symi where we anchored overnight in a little one-taverna, multi-goat bay called Marathounda. On Monday we hopped across to the island of Tilos mooring in the harbour of Livadihou. The odd Harbour-mistress there nearly turned us away for having too many jerry cans of fuel on deck. That would have been a first. Apart from that Tilos is nice place with a useful mix of butchers, bakers, flip-flop shops etc. We had a good barracuda-like fish in a
restaurant up the hill, off the tourist trail. Today we are going to the island of Nisseros to gawp at its volcano.

36:44.12N 026:58.39E Another Volcano Another Day, Kos, Dodecanese, Wednesday 8th July 2009

We had most of yesterday exploring the island of Nisyros by car. The island has several big volcanic craters hissing and fizzing away and some nice white and blue villages perched up on the caldera rim. This afternoon we arrived at the southwest corner of Kos. The famous lettuces have not been seen yet.

36:53.68N 027:17.38E Well Greece’d, Kos Harbour Monday 13th July 2009

Grapto continues to creep around the Dodecanese Islands in holiday mode. From southwest Kos we sailed up to the port of Kalymnos where we had a couple of nights forced to listen to roaring motorbike engines and shouty natives in what is otherwise a nice town. From Kalymnos port we tried another quieter anchorage around the mountainous coast and found a mooring buoy in the very quiet Emporio Bay. As both of my two outboard engines are not working its a little bit more strenuous than usual getting around by dinghy but the view from the taverna up on the hillside overlooking the boat was worth it. Feeling strong enough again for a town centre mooring, and expecting blowy weather, we sailed to Kos Harbour yesterday. We made the mistake of first parking in the tripper boat area and got shoved off when they came back but we are now in a better spot under the castle walls waiting for the Meltemi winds to ease. There is a lot to do here in Kos from sitting under the plane tree where the famous medical man Hippocrates apparently snoozed to looking at the huge ruins of the Asklepieion where had an office. Like a lot of these classical Greek places, most of the stones can now be found recycled into the Medieval fortification walls.

36:53.68N 027:17.38E Kos It’s There, Kos Harbour Wednesday 15th July 2009

Sarah and Mario have just left on the catamaran ferry for Rhodes then home. The plan was to drop them off there but the weather turned out to be too windy. It’s not too windy to sail, just too windy to tie-up without risking some damage in this crazy world of stern-to mooring and packed harbours. Life is so much easier when there are no other boats in sight. So, I’m still in Kos and old friends, John and Julian, arriving in Rhodes tomorrow, are going to have to get the midnight ferry here. Heike is also parachuting in on Friday morning. It’s turning into a busy summer sailing season for a boat that badly needs weeks of repair work done. The best laid plans of mice…

36:26.03N 028:14.29E Dodecanese Revisited, Rhodes, Thursday 23rd July 2009

On Saturday 18th, with fresh galley-slaves of John, Julian and Heike, we left Kos Harbour to sail to Emporios Bay, Kalimnos. I was here just a week ago. It’s nice to be able to go back to places for a change. Most of this big journey has been just a one-way trip with only the one chance to check a place out. On Sunday it was a return to Kos to send Heike back to work. We anchored in the tiny, shallow harbour of Mastkhari as it was near the airport. Oversized ferries use the place and it turned out to have little room for yachts. In fact no room at all as we had to leave in a hurry early on Monday morning to make way for the Kalimnos ferry. On Monday it was another visit to Niseros and another drive up to the spectacular volcano, perched villages and natural sauna rooms of the island. The harbour of Palon was stuffed with yachts from a regatta. Our faces were stuffed with octopus and calamari for dinner. The onboard sundowners of margharitas may have been a mistake. On Tuesday we lunched in a pretty, rocky bay on the south side of Tilos then went on to the island of Chalki. Chalki was a new place for me. It’s a lovely little town with pastel-painted campaniles, windmills and clear blue water. With its working fishing boats it doesn’t even feel all that touristy. I’ll be back. Wednesday had us racing to Rhodes and the airport so this time John and Julian could return to real life. As I partly expected, Mandraki Harbour was completely full. I expect it’s always full otherwise the harbourmaster there would be a bit more polite with his customers. The choices were a scary anchorage inside the cruise-ship harbour or tie up in the partly-built marina further south. I went for the marina. The dust from the earth-moving equipment brings back memories of Egypt.

36:13.35N 027:36.81E Chalki Again, Chalki, Dodecanese, Friday 31st July 2009

I’ve been back in Chalki for over a week now. I’m crewless again since Heike went back to work last Sunday but Swedish and Australian neighbours on the pontoon have been friendly and have been inviting me over for drinks. I went for a long walk across the island today just to see if my legs still worked. I took a look at a 16th century castle perched on a mountain top. It’s not exactly wheelchair accessible a needed a serious scramble up a rock face and two litres of water to get to it. Excellent views. Nobody else was there but it was a bit warm.

36:13.35N 027:36.81E Athens, Edinburgh of the South, Wednesday 5th August 2009 PM

‘The sea, autumn mildness, islands bathed in light, fine rain spreading a diaphanous veil over the immortal nakedness of Greece. Happy is the man, Ithought, who, before dying, has the good fortune to sail the Aegean Sea’. Nikos Kazantzakis, ‘Zorba the Greek’

I met up with Heike for a wild time in Athens last weekend leaving Grapto to look after herself on the pontoon at Chalki. Jessica did some rubbish navigating from the airport and got us completely lost in a suburb for a while. Silly girl! Jessica is the voice on the in-car navigation system. It’s the third time for me in Athens. The city has unfortunately become tacky by endless walls of graffiti but the air seems to be more breathable than I remember. The Acropolis was an anthill of scaffolding and tourists and the entrance to the new museum was too plugged with bodies to get in. Due to carelessness with ferry timetables I spent most of Monday wandering the streets of Rhodes Old Town doing tourist stuff while waiting for the late night ferry back to Chalki. There are worse places to be.

36:49.20N 028:18.56E Now in Turkey, Marmaris Yacht Marina, Turkey, Sunday 8th August 2009

Heike turned up for the weekend and we moved Grapto from Chalki, Greece to Marmaris, Turkey for repairs. It was a good cruise with a return to the island of Symi and the anchorage at Marathounda, then briefly to Symi town to clear out of Greece, then a nice anchorage in Kumlu Bay and a short hop to the marina this morning. It’s no surprise that Turkey is my thirtieth country courtesy flag to be hoisted on this trip and it’s even more countries counting island group dependencies and island states which use the flag of the mother country. It’s also no surprise that this boat has had a battering and is in badly need of repair and maintenance. Marmaris Yacht Marina is huge with thousands of yachts and not really my kind of place but it does have a lot of people who can fix things. It’s a sort of health spa for boats.

36:49.20N 028:18.56E Turkish Delights, Marmaris Yacht Marina, Turkey, Sunday 16th August 2009

Repair work continues slowly as the days are ferociously hot here. Also there is the distraction of a swimming pool and a supermarket that sells UK newspapers. I need to catch up with current affairs but as far as I can see nothing much has changed since August 2007 apart from it looking worse for my job prospects. I’m still waiting for houses to be given away free with petrol. Lori Evans, Atlantic crossing crew, came for an enjoyable visit the other day. She was sailing in Turkey with friends. It’s always nice to see that old crew didn’t become too traumatized by their experience on Graptolite and can still face the sea and a bottle of wine or three with the skipper. Pacific Colin and Atlantic Ian and Liz have also been in Turkey recently but unfortunately not close enough to meet up. I’ll be here for a while guys. Offspring Tom arrives in Dalaman on Tuesday.

36:49.20N 028:18.56E Bodrum to Byzantium, Marmaris Yacht Marina, Turkey, Tuesday 1st September 2009

After being nagged at by several of my loyal readers I suppose I had better bring this blog up-to-date. Tom flew out to Dalaman airport two weeks ago and was put to work in Marmaris installing a new anchor chain on Grapto. By Wednesday lunchtime, after almost getting heatstroke we were ready for a sail up to Bodrum. A quick test of the engine before departure was a complete failure with a flat starter battery. As we had been connected to shore-power for days it seemed to be much more of a problem than just charging the thing up. Having already agreed to meet Heike in Bodrum there was no choice but to hire a car and drive. We stayed at the excellent Movenpick Resort in Gumbet and also at the famous 1960’s hotel the Kismet in Kusadasi. From there we explored the ruins of the Roman cities of Priene, Milletus, Ephesus and Dydimus. It’s amazing what they did in those days with a bit of marble and plenty of slaves. Back to Marmaris for a couple of days by the marina pool and it was time for the long taxi ride back to Dalaman airport. As Tom flew back to Gatwick and home to get his exam results, I flew up to Istanbul to meet Heike again for yet another weekend. Our hotel in the Sultanahmet quarter had probably the best view in all Istanbul over the Golden Horn, Topkapi Palace, Agia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. Istanbul was much more civilized a place than I had expected. The carpet sellers in the Grand Bazaar were a pain in the bottom but I think they are supposed to be that way. When you live on a boat, carpets are low on the list of must-haves anyway. Now I’m back on the boat and it’s time for more repairs.

36:49.20N 028:18.56E The Western Front, Marmaris Yacht Marina, Turkey, Thursday 17th September
. The skipper is in the UK

Last Thursday I flew up to Frankfurt and was collected by Heike and the next day we headed south-ish down the Rhine valley and the Weinstrasse. It’s the time of year for post-grape harvest festivals. We crossed the Maginot Line with no resistance at all from the French and through Colmar and into the Voges mountains. We stayed in some excellent hotels and thoroughly stuffed our faces on Michelin-starred tucker. Back northwards down the Moselle valley and then through Koblenz and Der Deutscher Eck and back to Heike’s Betzdorf apartment. On Monday I drove up to Calais and jumped on a P&O ferry to Dover. Contrary to popular opinion there are in fact no ‘bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover’ but it was a pretty sight even so after two years away. I’m staying at my old Maldive’s crew, Mike and Jacqui’s house in Surrey. Tuesday was mostly long overdue visits to dentist, doctor and optician. Wednesday was tooth-drilling and filling day then down to the Southampton Boat Show to check out new dinghies. Not much has changed in Southampton apart from Aladdin’s Cave Chandlery selling up. The owners must have already been rich beyond the dreams of avarice after my circumnavigation fitting out.

36:49.20N 028:18.56E Wednesday 7th October 2009. Graptolite continues to wallow in Marmaris, Turkey while the skipper continues a Grand Tour of Europe and is currently in Germany.

On Friday 18th September I collected my wayward children, Holly and Tom from Woking and drove up to Blackburn for my Dad’s 80th birthday. The surprise party was not really all that much of a surprise until my brother Duncan turned up from Australia. Poor Dad’s prepared speech about absent friends and relatives had to be thrown away. Back south on Sunday and I stayed some more with Mike and Jacqui then we had a fine weekend’s sailing on yacht ‘Evelyn B’ with Mike, Jacqui and Heike doing yet another circumnavigation (around the Isle of Wight). Julian’s boat ‘Treble C’ was spotted about a mile off Portsmouth and we hailed the Triple J’s, Julian, John C and Johnny Y as they passed by on their way to Bembridge. Then back up the motorway to Lancashire for another short stay with my Mum and Dad and a few beers with John and Johnny then back south to West Sussex staying with Julian and Wendy prior to a ferry crossing to Calais on October 1st. A long drive through France, Belgium, Netherlands and Germany got me to Heike’s place at Betzdorf, near Cologne, then another long high-speed autobahn drive the following day to Munich where the Pickup’s Senior were flying in for the Oktoberfest as a birthday treat. Or so they thought. After a monster meal of beer, pig’s feet, ducks and dumplings we did roll up to the Oktoberfest for a quick look but then we were off to Salzberg in Austria in warm and sunny autumnal weather. We stayed in the Hotel Sacher. The chocolate Sachertorte here is not optional. Then we had a few days tour of the Tyrolean Alps taking us down to Italy and Switzerland then back up again through Austria and Germany. The last day was a trip up to the top of the enormous Zugspitze in a very impressive cable car and then down again in an equally impressive cogwheel train inside the mountain followed by a horse and buggy ride up to the fairy-tale castle of Neuschwanstein. I’m personally not so convinced about the Germanic health benefits of getting baked while naked in a sauna or eating Bavarian delicacies that are like great slabs of Spam and chopped up doughnuts, but apart from that this part of the world is lovely. Our local guide Heike, who was dressed fetchingly in a selection of Snow White dirndls for the entire trip, was wonderful. Come to think of it, that’s what she always wears. Except in the sauna!

36:49.20N 028:18.56E Thursday 22nd October 2009 PM. Graptolite is still in Marmaris growing weed on her bottom. The skipper is in Germany.

I’m still spending this Autumn in Germany, basically chauffeuring Heike around to business meetings up and down the country. I get to drive a cool car on the autobahns and I get plush hotels to stay in so I can’t complain. I’ve done all the tourist sights in Hameln (Hamelyn of Pied Piper fame) and Berlin and Frankfurt recently and stayed in more schlosses than I can count. Hamelyn is very nice. They make a big fuss about the Ratcatcher thing but it seems to me that it is based on an historical event in the 13th century where the local militia marched off to battle with a piper and part-time vermin exterminator at the head of the column. As most of the youths got killed or imprisoned and never came back, somebody had to take the blame. The rest is tourism. Berlin was much bigger and scruffier and looked more like a British city. They’ve done some impressive rebuilding since the wall came down. Highlights were a tour of WW2 underground bunkers, the Pergamon Museum and the Checkpoint Charlie Museum. I actually went through Checkpoint Charlie while it was still a checkpoint so it brought back memories of my small part in bringing the Cold War to an end. A lot of the time was spent walking in the rain using a Japanese-language street map (don’t ask) so I got to know the city fairly well. Frankfurt was a flying visit today. I ate some frankfurters there, what else?

36:49.20N 028:18.56E The Wurst of Times, Thursday 5th November 2009. The skipper is in Germany

Graptolite still in Marmaris. Skipper still in der Vaterland. In recent weeks I’ve done Hamelyn (again); Berlin (again); Dortmund (twice); Cologne and Dresden. Usually I keep warm and dry in the shops, museums, cathedrals and other sights then settle down to some local wurst and beer. Hey, somebody’s got to do it. Currywurst can be had everywhere (“Wurst Willies” may be the best) but it is a nasty invention and is obviously revenge for Germany never having had a colony in the sub-continent.

36:49.20N 028:18.56E Sunday 8th November 2009 PM. The skipper has been to Belgium

Just had the weekend in Belgium. Seemed like a good idea at the time. We rolled up to Ieper (Ypres) and the Menin Gate in time for the Last Post at 20:00 Saturday. Bought Heike a poppy and made her feel guilty about WW1. We went on to Brugge and Die Swaene Hotel. Brugge is a very nice old place full of chocolate shops. On Sunday morning I got dragged kicking and screaming to a Catholic mass in the main church in Brugge on the pretence that it was in the “1000 Places” guide but it turned out that the church in the guide was actually in Antwerp and just had the same name. It was quite funny though watching the clergy conducting the singing and filling the place with incense smoke, like a cross between a pantomime and an opium den. Onwards to Brussels where we had moule frites and beer at the excellent “Chez Leon’s” followed by a look at the “Atomium” which is a futuristic (still) steel construction dating back to 1957. Off to Turkey tomorrow to check on the boat.

36:49.20N 028:18.56E Wednesday 11th November 2009 PM Yat Marin, Marmaris, Turkey

Arrived back in Marmaris on Monday to check up on the old girl. Just as well. I had foolishly left some (usually rainproof) hatches open a crack for ventilation as it was very hot when I left. The rain must have been ‘orrrible over the last two months as both heads were filled up with rainwater and also mud from the Sahara dust that had finally washed off the rigging. The dinghy is also filled with water and weed and looks like it has been entertainment for a flock of incontinent ducks. The weather is cold, wet and windy and I hear the Tropics calling; “come to me, come to me”

36:49.20N 028:18.56E Monday 23rd November 2009 PM Yat Marin, Marmaris, Turkey. The skipper has been to Capadocia, Turkey

Turkish roads are something of a relief after the ruthless efficiency of the German autobahns. Here road signs seem to be more or less optional and road markings are just suggestions. To be fair though nobody speeds too much as the roads are usually just too full of boulders, potholes, chickens and unlit tractors. Police roadblocks are everywhere but they seem nice about it. I did a large amount of mountain driving this weekend from Marmaris to Antalya airport to collect Heiki then on to Central Anatolia and Cappadocia and back. The weather was sunny and cool. It seems to be the season for roadside stalls selling oranges. The accommodation to get in Cappadocia is a cave. We stayed in the Museum Hotel high up in Uchisar. Parts of the place used to be a museum once but now it is a hotel with rooms made mostly of ancient dwellings cut out of the rock. Ours had a fabulous view out over the whole of Cappadocia. The strange rock formations and underground early Christian cities and churches here are about as unusual as it gets and an early morning hot-air balloon flight is the only way to see them. The pictures speak for themselves.

36:49.20N 028:18.56E Monday 23rd November 2009 PM Yat Marin, Marmaris, Turkey. The skipper has toured Germany and the Czech Republic

Last weekend I was in Berlin then some time in Betzdorf supervising the fitting of a kitchen then we were off on another weekend’s exploration looking at Christmas markets, Christkindlmarkt, Weihnachtsmarkt, whatever. Gluehwein; wurst; the whole nine yards. First stop was the medieval walled town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber where we bought some Christmas decorations and then went on the entertaining Night Watchman walk around the dark but plague-free streets. On Saturday we went on to Nuremberg which was much bigger but way too crowded. Then over the border into the Czech Republic and Prague. (Yes, it’s yet another country in an already busy year. There will be another two countries bagged before the year is out, watch this space). Prague was nice but a bit drizzly. We stayed in the Hoffmeister Hotel. The restaurant was
excellent. On Sunday morning we walked the Charles Bridge and went to the Old Town Square for another Christmas Fair. On the drive back we stopped for a few beers in Pilsen and a tour around the Pilsner Urquell Brewery. As one does.

Graptolite is at 36:49.20N 028:18.56E Yat Marin, Marmaris, Turkey on Sunday 20th December 2009. The skipper has been to Romania and is now in Betzdorf, Germany.

I just had a week in Romania playing at Santa Claus. It was an experience. Last Saturday we met up with old bible smugglers, Gerd, Klaus and Helmut and flew out from neat and tidy Cologne-Bonn Airport to scruffy old Bucharest Airport. Then it was a four hour minibus ride northwards to the even scruffier town of Barlad in Southern Moldavia. In Barlad is the Betania Children’s Home where we were to be based. Fortunately it was a nice place. I had visions of dirty-faced and cross-eyed babies rattling the bars of cages but it wasn’t like that at all. All the kids were teenagers and for the most part were fairly well adjusted given their tragic backgrounds. The accommodation was all in ten self contained houses and while not luxurious was comfortable enough. There is also a bakery and a warehouse on site. A couple of large trucks had arrived from Germany which contained thousands of shoebox Christmas parcels for local distribution. All this needed unloading to the warehouse. On Sunday we loaded up two minivans and set off into rural Moldavia. It’s not exactly a rustic idyll here. Horse and carts are the main form of transport and the houses don’t even deserve being described as ‘wattle and daub’. ‘Shit and sticks’ is more like it but the rich ones do have fine tin roofs with rooms by the dozen – diddle diddle diddle dum. Packs of feral dogs are everywhere and really made me wish I had had a Rabies shot. The Roma, or Gypsy, villages were the worst. They are a sort of feral people and were not easy to give parcels away to as they started grabbing and howling at you if you were not fast enough. I confess to giving away small girl’s presents to large boys just to get rid of them. Some of the children were switching hats behind the vans to get extra handouts and the little old ladies were just plain scary. The local mayor, perhaps a gypsy king, did invite us into his house for tea though. A couple of days later the temperature dropped to ten below and the snows came with a blizzard for three days. They do almost nothing here to clear snow and cars were buried in the streets. Anyone would think these parcels were organ transplants the way we battled with them through the drifts. Getting the minivans dragged out of ditches and up hills by tractors was all part of the adventure. When it got really bad we hijacked a one-horse open sleigh (of an agricultural variety) for parcel deliveries. Very cool. Heike got some ‘freezer burn’ on her legs from the cold on one run. We delivered to some schools but the teachers were on strike and many schools were closed. Mini-riots on the village streets were the usual method. We also did some children’s hospitals and institutions. Many kids ended up looking like they were off to a German football match sporting Hertha BSC Berlin and Bremen scarves and hats. We mostly cooked our own food in the guest house, or a least Heike cooked and I dried the dishes, so that we didn’t need to get too familiar with the delights and dangers of the local cuisine. This being Romania and close to Transylvania, on Friday we did have Transylvanian wine, cheese and roasted garlic for the better prevention of any vampire attack. Yesterday, Heike and I caught the early morning train from Barlad back to Bucharest and were met by Emanuel, who is associated with the Betania Home, and were given a driving tour of Ceausescu’s Bucharest on the way to the airport.

Graptolite is at 36:49.20N 028:18.56E Yat Marin, Marmaris, Turkey on
Wednesday 30th December 2009. The skipper is in the village of Mission, Val
d’Anniviers, Valais, Switzerland.

Christmas Eve, or the German Christmas Day of the 24th, was at Heike’s sister Micki and Frank’s house in Berlin. They do some things that are a bit different in Germany for Christmas. A brace of geese with dumplings and red cabbage was the main course. The goose had to be followed by a lot of schnapps to ease the digestion. They had never heard of mince pies, Xmas pudding or crackers. A scary Weihnachtsmann brings presents on the 24th and I got a professionally recorded CD with silly boat songs we made up in the Pacific. On the evening of the 24th we put the car on a train at Berlin’s Wannsee Bahnhof going overnight to Munich. The station was used during the war to deport Jews but their customer service is now much improved. We squeezed into a small sleeping compartment and a British-style Father Christmas managed to arrive in time for the morning of the 25th. On Christmas Day we drove south to the Alps and then once again with the car on a train over the Furka Pass into the Swiss Rhone Valley and arrived late in the day at the chalet in Mission in the snowy Val d’Anniviers. We are here by ourselves for five days until John & Linda and Johnny & Alison arrive in time for New Year. Neither of us ski much but we have been up and down cable cars and had gluhwein and cheese fondue for the atmosphere. The valley and villages are very picturesque with snowy mountains and trees and chalets that look as if they would play music if you lifted their roofs up.

The grand total for 2009 turns out to be 21 different countries where I have hung my hat. Coincidentally, but a much more important milestone for me is that my daughter was born 21 years ago today. Have a Happy Birthday Holly and a Happy New Year to All.

Graptolite is at 36:49.20N 028:18.56E Yat Marin, Marmaris, Turkey on Sunday 3rd January 2010. The skipper has been to Switzerland and is now in Betzdorf, Germany

Friends Alison and Johnny turned up at the Mission chalet in the early hours of New Years Eve morning. On New Years Eve day the four of us went up the cable car from the village of Grimentz. Johnny had a ski and the rest of us trudged around in the snow for a while until it was time for lots of vin chaud (it’s a French-speaking valley). After dark we watched a torch-light ski parade down to the village and firework display. All very nice. Then it was back to the chalet for raclet and cheese fondues. Hosts John and Linda managed to arrive before it was all gone. We all celebrated New Year on the chalet balcony with “Auld Lang Syne” from the Red Hot Chilli Pipers and then Thai paper lanterns were launched into a moonlit but windless night sky. Afterwards, chalet neighbours from Zurich invited us round for even more drinks at their ice-bar in their garden. On New Years Day we had some proper skiing instruction from Linda and John on the baby slopes of Grimentz. The day after that, we had too much pain in the legs and feet for ski-boots so we spent the day downhill racing on toboggans at Chandolin. Sledging to a mountain hut at Illhorn for a lunch of rosti was pretty good, I thought. Today, Sunday, it was back to Germany through the Kandersteg tunnel. It will be a while before I can face any cheese.

Graptolite is at 36:49.20N 028:18.56E Yat Marin, Marmaris, Turkey on Thursday 21st January. The skipper is in Betzdorf, Germany

Saturday 16th January; a flying visit to London for the World ARC Reunion dinner in Richmond Park. I drove across from Germany using the Calais-Dover ferry and Heike flew in to Heathrow from Berlin. An excellent time was had by all. Thanks, Daniel for the arrangements and use of the very nice Pembroke Lodge. Good to meet up again with old crew and fellow yachty travelers, particularly Colin and Belinda, Nick and Rosie, David, Gerrie and Petra. Sunday 17th January; visited the London Boat Show to check out unaffordable yachts then dinner with daughter Holly and her partner Thom in, I think, Blackheath. Monday 18th January; stayed with friends Old Mike and Jacqui near Dorking. I sustained a bit of leg damage following some excessive tango dance instruction and rum drinking. Mike and Jacqui are fresh back from tango-ing in Antarctica as one does. I put the video evidence on YouTube . Tuesday 18th January; a huge Chinese dinner on Tuesday in Woking with son Tom and then it was back on the Dover car ferry overnight to get ready for another mission to the Middle East. So many people to see and so little time. All you good friends and former crew that live in London and the south of England, you know who you are; I’ll be coming to see you later in the year.

Graptolite is at 36:49.20N 028:18.56E Yat Marin, Marmaris, Turkey on Thursday 28th January 2010. The skipper has visited Jordan and is now in Betzdorf, Germany

Last Thursday we flew out of Frankfurt to Amman, Jordan to stay with American expats Bob and Cris whom we met last year in Port Suez and Larnaca. Bob and Cris are old Jordan hands having been in Amman for years so we got the tour of the best bits: Ajlun, Jerash, River Jordan, Dead Sea and Petra. Petra lived up to expectations. The place is somewhat familiar from movies like The Last Crusade but seems even bigger and pinker in real-life. We also did the Indiana Jones/Lawrence of Arabia thing with horse and camel riding while looking dashing and dangerous sporting the red and white keffiyeh. Tres touristique.

Graptolite is at 36:49.20N 028:18.56E Yat Marin, Marmaris, Turkey on Friday
19th February 2010. The skipper is in Betzdorf, Germany

It’s been three weeks since my last confession. I didn’t do much in early February apart from watch snow fall during the week and drive backwards and forwards from the Rhine to Berlin at weekends. Frau Richter Snr. has not been well and has been in various Berlin hospitals. It seems to be the season for it as Frau Pickup Snr. Has also been in hospital following a careless bit of ice-skating in a car park in Blackburn. One weekend, on the way back from Berlin, we stayed in a hotel near Hameln and met up with Ian Jack (crew Hamble to Figuera da Foz) for dinner. Last week was Half-Term and Tom came out to Germany see his old dad. The first night we stayed a short drive from Cologne/Bonn Airport at the Steigenberger Hotel which was nice. It used to be a place the West German government put up the odd visiting King or Queen so it wasn’t too shabby and it had a good view overlooking the Rhine. The next day was Rosenmontag, the main day for parades for the Cologne Karneval, so we moved to another hotel in the centre of Cologne for the festivities. We watched the parade during the day. They throw huge amounts of packets of sweets, chocolates and roses off the floats which is cute but it gets a bit annoying after the tenth time a Toblerone bounces off your head. In the evening it was party-central in Cologne and we dressed up in natty 19th century nautical wear for the costume ball at the Stadtgarten. Tom in his Johnny Depp pirate gear had a lot of attention from the older frauleins. The local beer, Koelsch, comes in tiny glasses which are impossible to keep count of. That’s my excuse anyway. Tuesday, we were off to Dortmund and while Heiki did some more work, Tom and I tried to amuse ourselves with Dortmund’s tourist attractions. The Steinwache, which used to be an infamous Gestapo prison, is possibly the least amusing museum I’ve ever been to though. In the evening Heiki had to stay overnight in Hameln and Tom and I stayed with Ian and Heidrun in Lemgo nearby. Ian has a business pressure testing buildings and on Wednesday we went with him on a job, testing a new house in Paderborn which was interesting. Later we went to see some wind turbines and pointed a thermal-imaging camera at them for fun. You may have been wondering what the strange photographs were all about. Heiki had to overnight again in Hameln so we got another hotel in town for Wednesday night and explored the medieval streets and Pied-Piper/rat stuff the next day. After a quick look at the enormous Cologne cathedral, Tom was back at Cologne/Bonn Airport on Thursday evening.

Graptolite is at 36:49.20N 028:18.56E Yat Marin, Marmaris, Turkey on Saturday 6th March 2010, doubtless covered in weed and guano. The skipper is in Berlin.

I had a couple of what might loosely be called themed explorations of German history over the last couple of weeks. The first was of the industrial heritage of the Ruhr taking me to coal mines and museums in the Dortmund/Bochum area and the second was some much darker stuff in and around Berlin related to WW2. One interesting place was Zollern II/IV which sounds like it should be a concentration camp but was in fact a disused colliery near Dortmund. The remaining buildings and winding works look like a rather stylish palace and it would be hard to imagine them as pitheads in Yorkshire or South Wales. Generally speaking, Germany seems to have survived the industrial revolution without too many eyesores. At least until they started putting wind turbines all over the landscape. Another interesting place visited was Sachsenhausen, which, of course, sounds a bit like it should have been a coal mine but was in fact a very nasty concentration camp to the north of Berlin. It was such a useful place that the NKVD continued to use it after the war up to 1950 to lock up former Nazis, and anyone else they didn’t like the look of. The Holocaust Memorial in Berlin is also very good for making you feel embarrassed to be human. Yesterday we were among the last few people on the planet to go watch ‘Avatar’ the movie. It was pretty good in 3D on the big IMAX at the Sony Center in Potsdamer Platz. The movie’s story doesn’t show humans in a particularly good light either. Must be the zeitgeist.

Graptolite is at 36:49.20N 028:18.56E Yat Marin, Marmaris, Turkey on Tuesday 16th March 2010. The skipper is in Dortmund.

More German history recently; maritime, emigration and universities. We went up to Hamburg last weekend and stayed at the very nice ‘Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten’ overlooking the Binnenalster lake in the centre of Hamburg then on for some fish at the ‘Rive’ overlooking Hamburg harbour on the river Elbe. Further down the river is the cute Willkomm-Hoeft, a pier where unsuspecting ships sailing into Hamburg are shouted at by loudspeakers with “Willkommen in Hamburg, wir freuen uns, Sie im Hamburger Hafen begruessen zu koennen” and played the ship’s national anthem. Flags then go racing up and down a flagpole to force the harassed ship’s Captain into some kind of return salute. Naturally there is a ships-in-bottles museum as well. Then on to Bremerhaven which is on another river flowing into the North Sea, this time the Weser which also flows through Hamelyn many miles upstream. The main museum there is the very entertaining ‘Deutsches Auswandererhaus’ which covers the more than seven million emigrations from the port to the New World. There are reconstructions of the trans-Atlantic ship’s berths from the days of sail through to steamships. They give you a ‘boarding pass’ which you use to electronically track the life of a particular emigrant assigned to you based on your nationality. They can’t have had any English passing through Bremerhaven though as my man was a German Jew going to Argentina in 1939. Lunch was Labscouse in the old sailing ship the “Seute Deern”. The ships name means ‘lovely girl’ although the figurehead suggests the name should really be ‘grumpy housewife’. We needed to be in Hamburg on the Monday then Dortmund on Tuesday so to make it a more useful trip we stopped off in Heidelberg and stayed in ‘Die Hirschgasse’, a historic place which used to be a sort of fraternity house for Heidelberg University students while they were busy beer drinking and carving each other up in fencing duels. Otto von Bismarck also found time to carve his name in one of the tables. The view of the red sandstone ruins of Heidelberg Castle across the river Necker has inspired paintings by our very own J.M.W.Turner amongst others.

Graptolite is at 36:49.20N 028:18.56E Yat Marin, Marmaris, Turkey on Friday
26th March 2010. The skipper has been to Belgium, Netherlands and the UK and is now in Berlin.

Last weekend was a bit busy. Towards the end of last week, business took us to Brussels and Mechelin in Belgium where we stayed at the Martin’s Patershof. Its an odd place as it’s a very modern hotel built inside an old Franciscan church. From Belgium it was a dash up to Holland and then canals of Delft for lunch, then to Rotterdam for the overnight ferry to Hull. Then it was a quick drive to a sunny York for another lunch, plus Viking experience, and on over the Pennines to Mum and Dad P’s in Blackburn. The next day it was a drive down to Woking to collect a few things that have been moldering in a garden shed for a few years. Then it was on to Dover; the ferry to Calais; another lunch in Brugge and back to Betzdorf.

Graptolite is at 36:49.20N 028:18.56E in Turkey and the skipper is in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, Wednesday 12th May 2010

Having crisscrossed northern Germany several times in the last week or two it seems that the orderly Teutonic authorities only permit three colours in the landscape at this time of year, excluding the red roofs and the white wind-turbines, naturally. These seem to be in equal proportions.

These colours are: the dark-greens of the overwintered coniferous trees; the light-green of the new Spring growth and the luminous acid-yellow of the rapeseed fields. This being a hilly country the fields are highly visible and hard on the eyes. Surely, they could come up with other tints just to make this agribusiness more interesting. Isn’t this what genetic engineering is really for? It can’t take much to make an interesting patchwork pattern with whole fields. And why not be even more creative? Tartan designs could be cool. Attach a micro-chip to the seed-drill and who knows what pictures, or messages could be made?

You heard it here first.

Graptolite is at 36:49.20N 028:18.56E in Turkey and the skipper is in Berlin, Tuesday 18th May 2010

Friends, Mike and Jacqui, came over for a visit to Berlin last Thursday. As usual Heike went into Hyperactive Tour-Guide mode and we drove straight from Tegel Flughafn into the thick of the nightlife of the Friedrichstrasse area with champagne in hand.

Friday we took a look at the old Tempelhof Airport and peered down at Berlin from the Funkturm. We strolled the Unter Den Linden and had lunch in the swanky Hotel Adlon then ‘Kaffe und Kuchen’ in the Potsdamer Yacht Club. In the evening we did the Reichstag tour to see British architecture at it’s finest.

Saturday saw us checking out the low points of the city in WW2 bunkers and Checkpoint Charlie. I think there may have been a visit to a hunting, fishing and dirndl shop nearby but I’ve blanked it out. Lunch was in the ‘Zur Letzten Instanz’ for highly traditional, and huge, plates of German food.

On Sunday we trekked out to Potsdam for a fine lunch on Schnitzel and Spargel in the ‘Kleines Schloss’. It is the white asparagus season here (Spargelzeit) and many restaurants have special menus for the stuff. We then exchanged some Cold War spies on the ‘Bridge of Unity’ or ‘Glienicke Brucke’ nearby. Some of us also did a bit of tango on the bridge which may have been appropriate, or possibly not. We then went on to stroll through the grounds of Sansouci Palace. Heike had to go to the US on business that evening so it was a dash to Tegel then back to Schulzendorf for the rest of us to amuse ourselves.

Monday we got up late as there was nobody to organize us then we went on a leisurely cruise up and down the river Spree, as us old and tired people do. Then on to Tegel Flughafn again for goodbyes.

Tuesday, I slept like the dead.

Graptolite is at 36:49.20N 028:18.56E in Turkey and the skipper is in Berlin, Tuesday 15th June 2010

Been a bit busy recently; we closed down the Bezdorf apartment; lugged six wardrobes, two sofas and assorted bric-a-brac down three floors with the aid of some student labour; rented a big van and drove all the stuff to Berlin. Fortunately the basement there is big and can accommodate the two or three full sets of household kit and furniture.

So we are now here full-time in a place we had been using recently only as a sort of weekend cottage. It’s a small apartment left over from a large house that Heike has rented out. But most week days we are on the road as usual between Hamelin, Frankfurt, Dortmund and Brussels so the place is still just a weekend cottage in reality.

On the most recent trip to Belgium I went by the Waterloo battlefield site again which I didn’t get to see much of the last time. The Germans were on our team then for some reason. 

As everywhere else, FIFA Weltmeisterschaft 2010 fever has taken over in Berlin with most cars sporting German battle flags. Germany’s first game against Australia was watched on a newly (five minutes before) installed TV at Heike’s parents flat in Berlin-Neukolln. It seems to be traditional there to ring a giant cow-bell on the balcony after every goal.

Daughter Holly was supposed to be here this evening but is stuck at Paris-Orly Airport due to a traditional summer strike.

Graptolite is at 36:49.20N 028:18.56E in Turkey and the skipper is in Berlin, Tuesday 6th July 2010

Holly and Thom turned up eventually and we did lots of tourist stuff including canoeing the canals at Spreewald while eating gherkins; drinking cocktails on a tropical beach inside a Zeppelin hangar and watching the World Cup (England v Slovenia) at another beach in the city which was definitely non-tropical. We also had a drive out to Hamburg for Heike’s birthday, staying at the Hotel Atlantic.

My old mum had a birthday as well reaching 80 last week so both Heike and I were in Blackburn for the celebrations along with Leanne and Marcus and boys. I was struggling with the flu, or something, which will teach me to keep up-to-date with British diseases. I slept until last Thursday, some of it at Johnny and Alison’s, then struggled down to Liverpool Airport, back to Berlin and slept some more. I’m getting better thank you.

I had intended to check up on Grapto this week but the thought of antifouling in 50 degrees is putting me off for some reason.

Graptolite and skipper are both at 36:49.20N 028:18.56E Marmaris, Turkey, Tuesday 13th July 2010

Got a last-minute flight from Berlin yesterday and arrived at the marina after dark expecting to see just the top of the mast sticking out of the water after all this time. But all was well apart from a little dust and rain damage and a missing Turkish flag.

I need some acclimatization-time for the heat before I do anything strenuous.

Graptolite and skipper are both at 36:49.09N 028:18.44E Marmaris, Turkey, Saturday 31st July 2010

Navigationally aware readers will notice that Grapto has moved on a little bit. She was hoisted by a crane onto the hard last week. As expected there was almost a marine park’s worth of wildlife hanging off her bottom. These included quite a few oysters on the bottom of the fin keel which were not far off being edible but they usually make me sick these days. They didn’t thrill me to have to bash them off with a hammer either.

Anyway, the antifouling painting is now finished and she looks quite smart again from underneath. Also, I retrieved an outboard motor which has been in a workshop for repairs since I was last here; got the seal on the propeller gearbox replaced at as it’s been leaking sea water into the oil for over a year; commissioned a new bimini cover and sprayhood as the canvas-work had all but rotted away and had the tatty genoa sail cleaned and repaired so it doesn’t look like someone’s dirty washing. Also I bought a passerelle (French for gangplank) so I don’t have to make death-defying leaps ashore anymore in these stupid Mediterranean marinas. 

Heiki came out last weekend but the boat was too hot to live on so we moved into air-conditioned hotels in Marmaris and Datcha. And also a very smelly hotel near Dalaman Airport which was full of Russians there for the mud baths and the Green Sea turtles which they feed bread to like ducks.

The weather has been horribly hot here and with no shade canvas available the inside of the boat has been like living in an oven with mosquitoes. I was forced into buying a portable air-conditioner this week to avoid turning into biltong at night. It’s a big, noisy thing that has to sit on top of the gas cooker like, well, another gas cooker but I don’t care.

36:45.24N 028:56.29E Skopea Marina, Gocek, Turkey, Tuesday 17th August 2010

Grapto was lowered gently back into the water a few weeks ago and then refused to move away from the dock without being placated with a new starter battery. It was all very embarrassing, especially as she had already been treated to a many new toys recently.

My lad Tom came out a couple of weeks ago. We had a lot of time dashing between pool and air-conditioned boat while the new sprayhood and bimini canvas work was finally completed and the ever self-destructive Fischer-Panda diesel generator was repaired. New fuel pump; new cylinder ring; dodgy injector; blocked seawater pipes etc. I hate that machine and it hates me.

Then Tom and I were out of Marmaris Bay and back to sea with some short hops eastwards down to Gocek to be closer to Dalaman Airport. We anchored in some nice little bays on the Lycian coast on the way. It was completely stress-free apart from the main house batteries deciding that they too had had enough and would also like to be recycled thank you very much. The big batteries were replaced in Gocek and Tom was delivered into the perennially tardy hands of Easyjet this evening.

36:20.23N 025:26.09E Vlikadha Marina, Thira (Santorini), Cyclades, Greece Wednesday 25th August 2010

Heike flew out to Dalaman last Friday so we could move on from Turkey to Greece. Unfortunately the weather forecast showed the meltemi winds were expected to rise to gale force on Sunday. We were somewhat committed to getting to Santorini airport for a flight early Monday so we set off with the intention of beating the worst of the weather by sailing overnight and with a plan to find shelter on the way if it got bad. It got bad and we were badly pounded by having to motor directly into F6-7 wind with waves over the deck. Interestingly, the boat started filling up with water as well requiring the use of a bucket and the proverbial frightened man. It turned out that a hatch on the forward deck had not been closed properly and also the engine seawater cooling system had sprung a leak at the back of the boat. It killed a few bits of electrical equipment but nothing serious.

We had to run for shelter to the Dodecanese island of Astipalaia narrowly escaping being run down by a container ship on the way. Astipalaia turned out to be a lovely island with the white houses of the chora rising up from the harbour to the summit and a with 13th century castle on the top. By Monday the worst of the winds seemed to have past and we headed off west again to Thira stopping at the island of Anafi for lunch.

On Tuesday, we took a look at the famous view from the town of Fira into the caldera with several cruise ships at anchor. Heike flew out on a rebooked flight that evening.

On Wednesday, I had to track down some Customs people for a bit of paperwork at the Old Port about 300 metres below the town. The passengers from three huge cruise ships were backed up trying to get down on the cable car so I walked down the steps, slip-sliding on donkey poo the whole way. I’ll be doing it again soon as the Customs people were not in their office.

36:20.23N 025:26.09E Vlikadha Marina, Thira (Santorini), Cyclades, Greece Sunday 29th August 2010

I rented a quad-bike the other day so I could race around the island’s beaches and tourist parts with the wind in my hair. It’s a monster machine but has a less-than-throbbing 50cc engine and doesn’t do more than 25 km/hr.

Off to Berlin on Wednesday for a week’s holiday.

37:56.20N 023:38.92E Zea Marina, Piraeus, Greece, Monday 13th Sept 2010

Last Wednesday I came back from a week in cold and rainy Berlin to sunny Santorini. On Saturday evening H also turned up and we had a splendid sunset cruise through the Santorini caldera on our way to an overnight anchorage on the island of Ios.

It was a bible-black, moonless night on the approach to Ios but the guide showed a good protected anchorage at a bay called Manganari. We couldn’t see a thing in the darkness but the charts, radar and depth all looked good and the plan was to drop anchor a few hundred metres out in the bay to be on the safe side. No worries. Heike went to the bow to keep an eye out for any unlit boats but then gave a strangled squawk as a tall rock swept down our port-side only faintly lit by our red navigation light. It seemed like minutes but was probably microseconds before there was a very loud bang and we went from flank speed to zero with an instant realisation that the chart was not just a little out. It was very, very wrong.

Fully expecting to be soon swimming for the beach, we dashed about the boat looking for holes but all seemed OK. Back-tracking we dropped anchor further out and shaken and stirred, felt a strong need for some medicinal ouzo. A daylight underwater inspection showed no big damage apart from the rudder being a little shorter than it used to be. It was a lucky escape although the next lift-out will be expensive.

The next port planned was Piraeus but it needed an overnight Sunday passage through the northern Cyclades to get there so that Heike could get to Athens airport. After dodging many high-speed ferries during the night, we approached Piraeus at first light this morning. Zea Marina, once filled with oared-galleys turns out to be the type of marina now mostly full of big Sunseeker gin palaces. There are also a few boats sunk at their berths, likely waiting on insurance money. Not us though.

39:37.08N 019:55.53E Corfu, Ionian Sea, Wednesday 22nd September 2010

Piraeus was a grubby place as advertised but I quite liked it for some reason and it has a bit of history behind it.

Some archaeologists were diving near the boat in the marina mapping out some ancient Greek trireme berths. They were using my power and water supply during the day but their need was greater than mine given the poisonous mud they had to work in.

On Saturday morning we set off westwards to the entrance to the Corinth Canal. It’s an impressively deep rock cut for a few miles. We popped out into the Gulf of Corinth and stopped the night at a small harbour called Kiato on the Peloponnese coast. On Sunday we pressed on in very strong headwinds to our next nights stop at Navpaktos. Navpaktos, formerly called Lepanto, was where the Turks provisioned prior to the disastrous (for them) sea battle of the same name in 1571. The town is an interesting-looking place with a small medieval walled harbour and other fortifications running up the hillside. The harbour was way too small and medieval for us so we anchored outside.

Early the next morning was a run under the huge cable-stayed Rion Bridge and into the Gulf of Patras. It’s a bleak area here with high rocky mountains and salt marshes. Turning right at the Ionian Sea we sailed past a lot of islands and anchored for the night at the entrance to a canal cut through a salt marsh on the east side of the island of Levkas. The canal was a shortcut but we had a little delay while a floating road bridge was moved out of our way. Pressing on in very pleasant weather we arrived at Corfu Island in the early evening and anchored in the shadow of the impressive fortifications of Corfu town. I had planned on going to a big marina further up the coast but I’m getting a bit tired of paying 50-odd euros a night for a few metres of wall to tie up to.

40:40.37N 017:57.09E Brindisi, Italy, Sunday 3rd October 2010

Corfu’s Venetian fortifications were interesting enough. This late in the season the crowds of tourists are thinning out but everyone’s a bit long in the tooth and arrive in big pulses by big cruise ship.

The weather has been a bit variable over the past week or so and I had to move location most days to find shelter from the variable wind. The rain was very heavy at times which must explain the unusual greenness of the island compared to the burnt landscapes of the rest of Greece and even nearby Albania across on the mainland.

The natural route forward on this side of the Adriatic would be to go up the coast of Albania but Albania holds little appeal for me, possibly unfairly, so when Heike arrived late on Friday we bypassed Albania by an overnight sail northwest to the heel of Italy and to the port of Brindisi. Grapto will be staying here for a little while both of us return to Germany on Monday.

We spent most of the day today doing man-overboard practice outside the port in some fine but chilly weather. I was the man.

42:27.97N 014:14.01E Marina di Pescara, Italy, Monday 25th October

I had a couple of weeks of driving between hotels in Brussels, Dortmund, Hamelin and Berlin during early October. Then it was back out to the boat in Brindisi for a couple of days to try to get some electrical repairs done.

Connecting flight limitations made it sensible for me to meet H in Rome last weekend. We stayed in the Fontana Hotel with a close-up view of the Trevi Fountain. It was possible to throw coins into the fountain from the room window but with some risk of hitting the crowd of tourists below. We also went to the Sistine Chapel. The throwing of coins, and indeed most everything else, is frowned on there though.

On Saturday morning we stocked up on local wines, cheeses and meats and sailed out of Brindisi harbour heading northwest along the Puglia coast. 200 miles later, it is now Monday evening and we are in Pescara, about half way up the Italian leg on the Adriatic coast. The weather en-route was mostly favourable if a bit cold at night. The mountains behind Pescara have a capping of snow to prove it. H has gone back to work somewhere.

It was another impossibly busy weekend again.

On Thursday I drove across Italy from Pescara to Rome to meet Heiki at the Castello della Castellucia hotel, west of the city. On Friday it was a drive back to Pescara to start a 150 mile sail northwest up the coast to Rimini with a couple of overnight anchorages on the way. Night sailing didn’t seem like a good idea as it’s a cluttered coastline with pot-markers, mussel farms and gas platforms everywhere. The fine weather was beginning to turn nasty on the approach to Rimini harbour.

On Monday morning we caught a train to Florence and wandered the old streets in the rain. Long lines of wet tourists kept us out of the undoubtedly splendid insides of the Duomo and the Ufitzi, which will have to wait for another time, but we had a nice lunch and a game of Scrabble at the Loggia overlooking the soggy city from the Piazzale Michelangelo.

Later, Heiki flew off to Dusseldorf and I jumped a slow train back to Rimini, as one does.

44:04.61N 012:34.35E Marina Blu, Rimini, Italy, Tuesday 16th Nov 2010

We took a quick look at Venice last weekend. Just overnight in my case and for a few hours for Heiki as her plane was cancelled. Then we both took the train back to Rimini for a night in the marina.

We had intended to sail Grapto up to Venice so as to have our own vaporetto to use for the Pickup’s Snr trip next weekend but then we got the sad news that Heiki’s mum, Rosemarie, had passed away at home. She had been very ill. We’ve been in Berlin since Saturday making funeral arrangements but should be back in Venice this week.

44:04.61N 012:34.35E Marina Blu, Rimini, Italy, Tuesday 23rd Nov 2010

Heiki and I returned to Venice last Friday and later whisked the Pickup’s Snr. from the airport to the Grand Canal by posh water taxi. Stepping out of a boat directly into the lobby of a hotel was a novel experience even for me. Their suite in the Foscari Palace was a bit swanky with 15-foot high carved ceilings; a giant fireplace and fine views out over the gondolas and vaporettos up and down the Grand Canal. I shouldn’t let Heiki make the arrangements for this kind of thing as it will be giving the oldies ideas way above their station. And me.

On Saturday morning we went to the island of Murano for the glasswork tour. Horribly expensive stuff but there was none of the expected hard sell which was good. We wandered the canal banks of Murano for a while then took the vaporetto almost right around Venice. The night was spent at the opera and then humming World Cup theme tunes on the way back. On Sunday it was a quick sing-a-long in Latin at the service in the big Santa Maria della Salute church then roaming around the creepily ornate Doge’s Palace and St Mark’s Basilica followed by a panini and a gelato at the Lido. On Monday morning we took a wobbly gondola across the Grand Canal to the market and the Rialto Bridge then took in the view out of the top of the Campanile down into a flooded St Mark’s Square. Then it was a boat back to the airport and away to Manchester. It was the train down to Rimini in my case to clear out the fridge on Grapto. I’m back in Berlin tomorrow.

44:04.61N 012:34.35E Grapto is wintering in Rimini, Italy. The skipper is in Stuttgart, Germany, Monday 29th Nov 2010

In times of trouble, us British make tea, Germans reach for a sausage. Harsh but true.

Heike’s mum’s funeral was on Thursday in Neukoelln-Berlin. The funeral was nice, as these things go, and included various leitmotif of Rosemarie’s life. Flowers were based around peach-coloured roses and the mausoleum memorial stone included a carving of empty adirondak chairs facing out to sea. Florida beach seashells also decorated the lunch table which guests were invited to home as souvenirs.

We flew to Stuttgart, in Germany’s deep southwest, yesterday. Heiki is running a training course here. Stuttgart is the home of Mercedes and Porsche cars. It seems like a prosperous city and I will be out exploring once it stops snowing. The Christmas markets are already in full swing which feels like almost three weeks to early for me.

44:04.61N 012:34.35E Grapto is wintering in Rimini, Italy. The skipper is in Dortmund, Germany, Wednesday 12th Jan 2011

I’m getting a bit behind with this blog and forgetting what I’ve been doing so here’s a quick romp through the festive season.

Christmas in Germany starts 24th December when the Weinachtsmann comes to thrash the kids who have been naughty and give out presents to those who are nice. It is also the day for the big dinner which was at our place. Or, in fact, in the apartment next door which we currently have un-tenanted and filled with spare furniture normally stored in the basement. Heiki’s sister, Micki, entertained with Christmas carols on the “squeezebox” piano-accordion while we attempted to digest both a German traditional dinner of two geese and a dangerous assortment of British Xmas delicacies.

The 25th was bizarrely mostly spent naked in the sauna-house in the garden and rolling in the snow while waving to the neighbours.

As New Year approached we collected Mum & Dad Pickup from Dusseldorf airport and had a working road-trip across a snowy Germany back to Berlin stopping for the night in various stately schloss and being entertained in circus tents on the way.

Daughter Holly arrived at Schoenefeld airport on the 30th with five friends for birthday and New Year celebrations. We met them and took them for breakfast in Kreuzfeld. Son Tom had to cancel his visit to Berlin though due to raging ‘flu.

New Years Eve and Day was in a big resort hotel next to a frozen lake to the south of Berlin. Along with assorted parents we had friends Siegfried and Renate with us. It was a 1950’s themed dinner-dance which neatly coincided with nobody’s actual adolescent years.

After New Year, Holly and friends came for a fondue and again for leftovers the following night when we took them back to the airport. Dinners for ten are hard work. Mum and Dad had another few days sightseeing in Potsdam and Berlin before flying home although the icy streets and sub-zero temperatures didn’t allow for too much outside.

Yesterday I was in Mechelen near Brussels. Today I’m in Dortmund. I’ve no idea where I will be tomorrow but it’s not going to be Berlin. I’m fairly sure that there are a couple of bits of foreign travel coming up over the next few weeks including a previously unvisited country. Is it possible there are any of those left?

44:04.61N 012:34.35E Grapto is wintering in Rimini, Italy. The skipper is in Vilnius, Lithuania, Monday 24th Jan 2011

We flew to Vilnius, Lithuania via Riga, Latvia, last week. Obviously January in the former Soviet Union Baltic States is a little off-season but there was a bit of a business reason for being here.

Anyway, Vilnius is an interesting place. The streets were full of snow and ice but there was only a little leftover Soviet brutalist architecture and most of the old town is stuffed with pastel-coloured Baroque churches and cathedrals and is really quite pretty.

The food in Lithuania is well known to be on the stodgy side and we kicked off with some fine examples including a large pig’s ear and peas; “zeppelins” which are like a couple of potato dumplings the size of a pair of shoes and stuffed with meat and we also had a sausage which was essentially a pigs intestine stuffed with mashed potato. Mmm.

Driving west from Vilnius we visited Trakai with its red brick fairy-tale castle on an island in the middle of a frozen lake. Then it was off to the seaside at Klaipeda on the Baltic. The next day we were on the car ferry to the Curonian Spit which is a sort of barrier island of dunes and pine trees which separates the Baltic from the Curonian Lagoon. The lagoon was mostly frozen over with a lot of vodka-fuelled fishermen crouched over holes in the ice. We got down to Nida, the most southerly Lithuanian village on the spit and there’s a smell of smoked fish was everywhere. Just south of Nida there is a border post which leads to the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad. On the Baltic side I tried looking for a few bits of amber on the beach for souvenirs, but only for about ten seconds, as the windswept beach was mostly covered in little icebergs.

Driving back to Vilnius today we stopped at The Hill of Crosses which is a bizarre place with over 40,000 crosses jammed on to it. Don’t ask me why. Lunch nearby was more pig’s ears and zepellins and some kind of coca cola made from bread. Apparently.

Back to Dusseldorf now via Stockholm. I’m going to Gran Canaria in a couple of days but more of that anon.

44:04.61N 012:34.35E Grapto is wintering in Rimini, Italy. The skipper is in Schulzendorf, Germany, Monday 31st Jan 2011

I recently got back from a nice little outing to Las Palmas, Gran Canaria. It was to look over a yacht for sale that friend Ian Jack was thinking of buying. It was a 10m steel Rienke, self-build, bilge-keeler owned by a nice guy called Axel. Unfortunately it turned out to be the kind of boat that was a little bit too rough around the edges to have impressed Ian’s wife Heidrun. An important consideration. Ian and I slept on the boat for two nights though just to make sure. (www.vespina.net if you’re interested).

The boat was moored on the other side of the pontoon from where Grapto was moored in November 2007 just before the ARC so the trip was something of a blast from the past.

I heard recently that Val from Silver Heels II died in Turkey on 16 December and is buried in Karabaglar Christian Cemetery, Izmir. Steve Rowlands and I travelled in convoy with Val and her partner Graham through the Red Sea in the early part of 2009. It was a struggle along the coast of Sudan and Egypt and we spent many days waiting out the weather together in desert marsas and on remote reef anchorages. Val will be a great loss to the cruising tribe.

44:04.61N 012:34.35E Rimini, Italy, Tuesday 22nd March 2011

Son Tom was over for Half-Term with us in Berlin. We had a Sunday brunch and a bit of archery at an outdoor training place on a lake southwest of Berlin. We also did the big TV Tower in Alexanderplatz and a good few cool restaurants around the town which I’ve forgotten the names of.

Last week I put the car on the Autozug at Berlin-Wannsee and went down to Munich overnight then drove over the snowy Brenner Pass into Austria then Italy and on down to Rimini. I was carrying “new” sails that have lived for years in Mike and Jacqui’s garage in Surrey and our basement in Berlin. This has been the first time that the boat has been within driving distance since 2007 and all the stuff too big for airline hand-luggage has finally made the connection.

Last weekend we had three regional sales managers from Heiki’s office over for a bit of “skipper training” before a bigger event for 60-odd people on the Baltic that Heiki is organizing. Erik from Denmark and Stephan and Martin from Germany were good company and can all now tie bowlines. We sailed north to the fishing port of Cesenatico for an overnight stay. Leonardo da Vinci designed the canal port apparently and there is a nice floating museum of old Adriatic fishing boats. Returning to Rimini was a bit rough and there was a grand finale nail-biting surf into the harbour. It was sunny though and everyone was pink of face and fairly happy, I think.

Yesterday, Monday, I drove Heiki to Milan to get a flight back to do some work in Germany. We stopped off on the way for a quick climb over the castles and scenery of San Marino. I drove back here to Rimini this afternoon. We’ve got a big trip coming up in April and I have to clean the boat.

44:04.61N 012:34.35E Rimini, Italy, Tuesday 22nd March 2011

Son Tom was over for Half-Term with us in Berlin. We had a Sunday brunch and a bit of archery at an outdoor training place on a lake southwest of Berlin. We also did the big TV Tower in Alexanderplatz and a good few cool restaurants around the town which I’ve forgotten the names of.

Last week I put the car on the Autozug at Berlin-Wannsee and went down to Munich overnight then drove over the snowy Brenner Pass into Austria then Italy and on down to Rimini. I was carrying “new” sails that have lived for years in Mike and Jacqui’s garage in Surrey and our basement in Berlin. This has been the first time that the boat has been within driving distance since 2007 and all the stuff too big for airline hand-luggage has finally made the connection.

Last weekend we had three regional sales managers from Heiki’s office over for a bit of “skipper training” before a bigger event for 60-odd people on the Baltic that Heiki is organizing. Erik from Denmark and Stephan and Martin from Germany were good company and can all now tie bowlines. We sailed north to the fishing port of Cesenatico for an overnight stay. Leonardo da Vinci designed the canal port apparently and there is a nice floating museum of old Adriatic fishing boats. Returning to Rimini was a bit rough and there was a grand finale nail-biting surf into the harbour. It was sunny though and everyone was pink of face and fairly happy, I think.

Yesterday, Monday, I drove Heiki to Milan to get a flight back to do some work in Germany. We stopped off on the way for a quick climb over the castles and scenery of San Marino. I drove back here to Rimini this afternoon. We’ve got a big trip coming up in April and I have to clean the boat.

44:04.61N 012:34.35E Rimini, Italy, Tuesday 26th April 2011. The skipper is in Berlin.

I’m as English as they come and so it came as a bit of a shock to find myself yesterday in a “sauna park” resort to the southeast of Berlin at a lake called Schaermutzelsee. It was a Christmas gift from Frank and Micki, Heike’s sister. I had never really imagined myself willingly strutting about in the altogether with a crowd of Germans but, with a few exceptions, nobody really justified much of a second glance so it was easy to fit in.

A “sauna park” has a selection of saunas to cater for all tastes and temperatures. One was a Siberian banja where you go to be thrashed with twigs while loudly singing “ka-linka, ka-linka, kalinka moya”. Another sauna was done out like a mine-working where the Aufguss girl leaps around while sloshing bottles of slivovitz and throwing snowballs on the hot coals in an old mine cart. Very strange. Very German.

44:04.61N 012:34.35E Rimini, Italy, Saturday 16th April 2011. The skipper is in Samarkand, Uzbekistan.

Here’s a Trivial Pursuits question. What do the countries of Liechtenstein and Uzbekistan have in common? Answer later**.

My surprise birthday trip this year is to Uzbekistan where the Former Soviet Union meets the Islamic world. We flew from Berlin-Tegel to Istanbul and then on to Tashkent arriving in the early hours of April 8th. We don’t normally do “tours”, but in this place it is impossible to rent a car and making local arrangements is a nightmare without Russian or Uzbek so we had a driver and guide meet us as the airport. We had a look around the bazaars of Tashkent and the next day flew to Urgench in the west of Uzbekistan near the Turkmenistan border. A drive to a couple of mud-brick fortresses in the Kyzylkum Dessert was followed by lunch in a yurt camp and then on to the city of Khiva where we stayed in an old medrassa resplendent with blue tiled minarets. On April 11th we had a nine-hour drive across the Kyzylkum Dessert to Bukhara for further dose of minarets, mosques and mausoleums. These buildings with their blue tiles and majolica are very fine structures but natural disasters like earthquakes and Mongol Hordes mean that many of the building have been extensively restored or rebuilt and are not always entirely as old as claimed.

We had a couple of days exploring Bukhara. Like everywhere else there are also shopping opportunities in Bukhara. Heike successfully haggled so hard for one silk carpet that the police were very nearly called to throw her out.

On the 14th we drove across the grassy steppe to another yurt camp. Our yurt smelled like a wet camel. The actual smelly camels we took for a ride. There were a lot of wild tortoises wandering around the camp but I couldn’t generate any enthusiasm with the camel herders for racing them like we used to with hermit crabs or cane toads.

The morning of the 15th, my birthday, it was cold and wet and the yurt smelled even worse so we abandoned a planned day of camel trekking and headed off to Samarkand for a birthday dinner and lots of vodka.

44:04.61N 012:34.35E Rimini, Italy, Friday 22nd April 2011. The skipper is in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.

Samarkand has some of the biggest and best mosques, medrassas and mausoleums on the Silk Road and we stayed there for four nights losing only one day because of intestinal irregularity despite frequent internal disinfection with vodka.

Then it was another drive to Tashkent where the trip was supposed to end but we decided to carry on eastwards for a couple of days into the Fergana Valley as we had heard it was not as dangerous as we had been originally told. The drive into the valley was spectacular with the Pamir Alay Range to the south and the Tian Shan Mountains to the north.

There were stops at a ceramics factory in Rishton and a silk works in Margilon and several bazaar stops where we stocked up on the usual Silk Road goods. Our driver was persuaded with dollars to also take us to Andijon in the far east. Andijon being the site of a recent government massacre of Islamic fundamentalists was likely the worst place but everything turned out alright. Later on the 22nd we flew back to Tashkent. Our arranged driver there never showed up but we haggled for a cheap rusty Lada taxi to our hotel for a short nap before returning to Berlin. There is to be a lunch stopover in our old stamping ground of Istanbul.

45:29.35N 012:35.13E Porto Turistico di Jesolo, Venezia, Italy, Tuesday 17th May 2011

We sailed out of Rimini last weekend in beautiful weather and anchored overnight off the River Po delta. On Saturday we continued on up towards Venice when in sight of St Mark’s through the entrance to the lagoon we were hit by a sudden F8 and heavy rain. Nearly lost the dinghy and the bimini cover and got soaking wet and semi-hypothermic before we could dig out the oilies. A plan to swan up and down the Laguna Veneta was abandoned and we carried on to the Porto Piave Vecchia, near Lido di Jesolo, and lurched onto the marina’s fuel berth and clung on there to avoid any expensive encounters while parking up in strong wind.

Later that evening, we got a taxi into Venice and a vaporeto down the Grand Canal and had dinner in a restaurant next to the Rialto Bridge then Heike caught a sleeper train to Munich and I got a slow train back to Jesolo und das Boot.

I woke up to a windless, sunny morning and moved on to our arranged berth on the other side of the marina. We will probably be staying here for the rest of the year and use it as a base for cruising the top end of the Adriatic and Croatia.

07. Red Sea, Aden to Suez 2009

This blog runs from the Port of Aden in early April 2009 to Port Said in early June 2009. The posts were originally satellite emailed to the blog, http://blog.mailasail.com/graptolite . My only crew from Aden to the Eastern Mediterranean was Steve Rolands. I had not originally planned to sail this short-handed but Tim Relton was unexpectedly recalled from Aden by his employer. It was a tough leg with strong winds almost always in the wrong direction.

12:47.55N 044:58.87E Port of Aden, Yemen, Sunday 5th April 2009
Graptolite arrived unmolested in the Port of Aden this morning. We had a few scares overnight with panicky nearby big tankers radioing about speedboats chasing them and helicopters being called in for protection. I think we
might have been confused for one of the “speedboats” once or twice as when we see unidentified boats around we’ve been going into stealth mode with no running lights. The approach to Aden in the dark was very dramatic with the orange city light-pollution making a silhouette of the mountains. We anchored in the outer harbour for a few hours waiting for daylight and have just arrived in the inner harbour for formalities.

12:52.18N 043:06.06E Southern Red Sea, Wednesday 8th April 2009
The guide books were right about Aden. The place is hopelessly ramshackle and dirty but it’s also very interesting. The town is mostly clinging like barnacles to the lower slopes of some big dusty mountains. There are some fortifications still remaining that were once used with obviously mixed success by us British to try to keep Arabia at bay but along with everything else they are all falling down. The night street market near the port was an education. I would guess little has changed since the days of the Ottoman Empire. At a food stall, we ate some strange-but-good inside-out pizza made with egg, cheese and onion for dinner. This was washed down with chai made by boiling up tea dust, sugar and dried milk on what looked like a jet-engine afterburner. Last time I had tea like that was in the Himalayas over 30 years ago. Coincidentally, Tim was there too. A lot of stalls were selling qat (the spelling might not be right) which are privet-like leaves that you chew into a cud. I’m not sure what it does for you as I never tried it but most of the users looked a bit wild-eyed. Tim flew home in the early hours of Tuesday to take care of business. By Tuesday afternoon Steve and I were provisioned, had formalities completed and were off. Soon after daybreak on Wednesday we were running through the Bab el Mandab narrows at the southern end of the Red Sea in the company of another couple of yachts.

13:12.54N 042:31.35E Ras Terma, Eritrea, Friday 10th April 2009
Creeping up the coast of Eritrea. We’re just sailing in the mornings and hiding out the rest of the time. The wind gets to be a bit boisterous and unpleasant hereabouts later in the day. There’s not much to look at onshore; just a lunar landscape of mountains and sand dunes and the odd military outpost. Makes you wonder what the Italians were thinking of setting up a colony here. The fishing has been good though and we’ve been keeping our small convoy of yachts, us, ‘Brianna’ and ‘Sarenity’, safe from the perils of starvation with supplies of the non-tinned variety of tuna.

13:51.95N 041:54.53E Mersa Dudo, Eritrea, Sunday 12 April 2009
Now we are now over run with fish. We caught an 8kg spanish mackerel yesterday. Well, maybe it’s a spanish mackerel. The identification is a bit uncertain. It could also be a variety of kingfish or wahoo. Anyway it’s of the family Scombridae. Excellent eating. I wish I had a freezer. With welcome donations of beer from Trevor on ‘Sarenity’ and banana cake from Bob on ‘Briana’ everything is going well. We are passing a part of the coast thick with volcanic ash cones and craters. They all look as if they were active yesterday but in this dry and dusty climate they are going to be around for a while. The only signs of human activity recently have been a few abandoned fishermen’s bothies and one rusty oil tanker wrecked on the beach.

15:06.99N 040:16.66E Howakil Bay, Eritrea, Monday 13 April 2009
We caught another fish, a giant trevally, this morning without really meaning to. It’s hard to just dangle a line in this water without catching something edible. The shoreline remains mountainous, lifeless and desolate, although the odd dusty camel has been spotted.

15:36.61N 039:28.40E Massawa Port, Eritrea, Thursday 16th April 2009
We came into Massawa yesterday in search of beer for my birthday. Massawa has seen better days and is very down-at-heel. There are many big ornate Italian colonial buildings that are roofless and have holes in them from bombs or shellfire. The people are helpful and pleasant, and all speak good English. The black-market money changers and the prostitutes are particularly friendly. We stand out like sore thumbs amongst all these very dark and very skinny Eritreans. For some reason that we have not got to the bottom of yet, there is no local beer to be had, only Heineken at $6 a can. Fortunately, there is a plentiful supply of cheap Eritrean ouzo and gin available. They taste very similar to each other. We tried some local food last night as well. It was a kind of bolognaise on a huge grey pancake not unlike carpet underlay.

16:02.17N 039:27.27E Sheikh el Abu Island, Eritrea, Friday 17 April 2009
Why is Easter this weekend in Eritrea and a week later than everywhere else? Answers on a postcard please…

This morning Steve and I and Vicki (Sarenity) went shopping for supplies in the sprawling Massawa Friday market. It was a very Third World experience with acres of trussed up sheep, goats and chickens, and sorry little piles of fruits and vegetables littered about in the dust. After clearing out of Massawa (only two packs of Marlboro extorted, a bargain), we headed north with 17-18 knots of wind on the nose and have reached the shelter of Sheikh el Abu Island for the night. We caught another 16lb Spanish mackerel this afternoon and for sundowners had sashimi with wasabi and zibib, a kind of Eritrean ouzo. Well, I did. Steve’s not keen on ouzo. Spanish mackerel is a really tasty white fish with big teeth and nothing like the little brown oily things you get in British waters. In case you were wondering. Happy Birthday, Tom.

18:15.01N 038:19.90E Khor Nawarat, Sudan, Monday 20th April 2009
There have been a couple of overnight anchorages for us on the Dahlak Bank off Eritrea. The last island had an active minefield on it which put a damper on any beachcombing. We arrived in Sudanese waters late last night and are now anchored in a quiet bay in the south. Sudanese flies have been described as being ‘superior’. I can well believe it. I’ve just had one trying to communicate by hopping on the keys of my laptop; quite atrocious spelling. Looked a bit like Jeff Goldblum. It ain’t half hot Mum.

18:46.43N 037:39.49E Long Island, Shubuk Channel, Sudan, Tuesday 21 April 2009
It’s been a good day’s sail from one uninhabited island to another along the Sudanese coast. The anchorage this evening was just a short snorkel to a very colourful coral reef and some pretty reef fish. There were sea eagles nesting in the dunes and unfortunately a startling number of plastic bottles washed up on the otherwise deserted beach. Today’s fishing included about a dozen big grumpy barracuda which were all thrown back. Steve also caught half a tuna, the other half being bitten cleanly off by something very very big while being landed. The last fish caught was another good-sized Spanish mackerel which was just barbecued for dinner. The generator died last night. Power to the people.

19:06.46N 037:20.26E Suakin, Sudan, Wednesday 22nd April 2009
We had a careful sail through the reefs in the very poorly charted Shubuk Channel along the coast and arrived at Suakin this afternoon. Suakin is a sort of port but got eclipsed in the porty business by Port Sudan many years ago and it is now pretty much a crumbling ghost town. The ‘old town’ on an island in the middle of the harbour is a spectacular deserted ruin. The claim to fame for this place is that it was the last slave trading market in the world and was busy up to the end of WWII. We have our shore passes and will explore tomorrow.

19:06.46N 037:20.26E Suakin, Sudan, Thursday 23 April 2009
It’s all a bit biblical in appearance here. Donkey carts are the local transport and there are as many goats as people. Most houses and shops have a wall that’s fallen down or a roof caved in through neglect so the goats tend to lord it up in style indoors and the people sit around out on the dusty streets. We bought some flat bread and a few bits of fruit and vegetables in the market. No meat though as the butchers’ stalls could make a vulture gag. Old crew from the Pacific days will remember ‘Carina’, a tiny Hungarian boat being single-handed around the world by a luxuriously-bearded lunatic called Aaron. He arrived here in Suakin at the same time as us. Personally, I wouldn’t dare navigate around a village pond on that boat so, respect. We are taking a bus to the slightly more cosmopolitan Port Sudan tomorrow.

19:17.42N 037:19.67E Marsa Ata, Sudan Saturday 25th April 2009
Yesterday the crew of ‘Graptolite’ and ‘Silver Heels’ caught a bus the 30 miles into Port Sudan. We could have got a taxi but it’s always a bit more colourful to be jammed cheek-by-jowl with the raggedy natives and with the beggars pawing at you through the windows. As the bus pulled out of Suakin the crumbling coral-stone buildings of Suakin gave way to suburbs of rusty corrugated iron and wood shanty towns and just when we thought it couldn’t possibly get any less luxurious, the
shanties gave way to a hinterland of sparse nomad encampments of twigs and old carpets. Still, the flat desert coastal plain was resplendent with little pale blue, pink and yellow flowers, or so it seemed from a distance. For some reason there are millions of windblown plastic bags impaled on the scrub everywhere. Port Sudan is a bit more of a city and less tumbledown than Suakin but not much. The produce market was busy but being Friday it all began to get quiet in the afternoon. We found a place for lunch and had an excellent but simple meal of grilled chicken with rocket and tomato salad. It might have been the pleasures of an air-conditioner that made it taste so good. It’s painfully hot here. Back to Suakin and the market there was just opening up again so we called into a bakery for some bread fresh from the wood-burning ovens and used up the last of our local money on fruit. We sailed out of Suakin this morning but unfortunately didn’t manage to get very far as there are strong northerly winds and so we are hiding out in a ‘marsa’ inlet in the reef ten miles up the coast.

19:32.46N 037:19.50E near Port Sudan, Tuesday 28th April 2009
We just had a couple of days sheltering in Marsa Ata waiting for the weather to calm down along with Graham and Val (Silver Heels II) and Aron (Carina). Marsa Ata was interesting enough. It’s a big flat wetlands area with sea-eagles and flamingos. It’s a bit like the Norfolk Broads except for the wildlife and having no pubs. The weather is nice again and we are back underway.

21:21.06N 037:00.53E Khor Shinab, Sudan, Thursday 30th April 2009
The last couple of anchorages have been on some more isolated reefs off the Sudan coast. Tuesday night was on Sanganeb Reef. The snorkelling was some of the best I’ve seen. The coral has survived much of the bleaching that we saw in the Pacific atolls and on the Great Barrier Reef recently (what a poseur!). ‘Unbleached’ coral is very colourful stuff. The reef fish were also plentiful and in sparkling form. I particularly liked the clouds of tiny mixed gold and iridescent green fish hanging around the bommies. Wednesday morning was at Shab Rumi which also has very nice coral and also the remains of some of Jacques Cousteau’s undersea habitat experiments from the 1970’s. Also, apparently, the remains of one of his diving team but I never saw that. We had an overnight passage last night up to Khor Shinab. We are currently anchored in a spectacular big sea-inlet right into the heart of the mountainous Nubian Desert. The desert colours change with the angle of the sun but are mostly yellows, reds and purples. I can see only one solitary tree in the landscape and there are no people anywhere. Apart from ‘Silver Heels’ who are still travelling with us.

22:20.97N 036:49.13E somewhere in the no-man’s land between Sudan and Egypt, Monday 4th May 2009
After waiting out some northerly winds, we left Khor Shinab on Sunday morning and daysailed to Elba Reef. It is another excellent snorkelling site. As we now have some rare southerly winds we are now on a 150 mile dash across the wonderfully named Foul Bay. It’s not all that clear which national courtesy flag we should be flying just here as there seem to be unresolved issues concerning the border between Sudan and Egypt. As there is nothing much ashore, apart from a few scraggy camels, maybe nobody cares. We just caught a tuna and had sashimi for breakfast. We are all out of Cornflakes.

24:09.66N 035:41.91E, Fury Shoal, Egypt, Tuesday 5th May 2009
A southerly gale sent us surfing across the Tropic of Cancer last night. When we were most of the way across Foul Bay and in less than the time it took for me to think the autopilot had broken, the wind dropped to nothing
and came back as an equally strong gale from the north. I like to think this may have been merely a robust but affectionate farewell pat from the equatorial parts of our planet. We are now sheltering in splendid isolation on a windswept but not too bouncy reef on Fury Shoal where it is reputed that dolphins like to swim with yachties.

24:09.66N 035:41.91E, Fury Shoal, Egypt, Thursday 7th May 2009
We are still sheltering here on Fury Shoal and still waiting for the wind to behave. We’re in daily radio contact with a number of other yachts in the Red Sea and it seems everyone else is also trapped in the anchorage they find themselves in. Dolphin Reef on Fury Shoal, where we are, is surreal enough to be worth more of a description. This is a remote, entirely watery, spot offshore and we can see no land from here. To our north, only about 100 metres away, are crashing big breakers over the shallow coral on the reef front. In the moonlight the breakers are all that can be seen. We are anchored in the lagoon behind the coral in sand in very clear water. The wind is howling and the wind-generator is screaming but the big waves are fortunately mostly tamed by the time they get to us. So far the anchor is holding. The rigging has become crusty with salt and red with dust blown in off the desert. I took swim out to the inner edge of the coral earlier today, tooled up with wetsuit, snorkel and spear. This was mainly in an attempt to try to find something edible as we have no more fresh food onboard. There were plenty of fish but millions of years of evolution make it just too easy for fish to keep out of the stabbing range of us monkeys.

24:09.66N 035:41.91E, Fury Shoal, Egypt, Monday 11th May 2009
It’s now been over a week since we dropped anchor on this reef and we are getting stir crazy. A short lull in the wind this morning allowed ‘Silver Heels’ to join us here from the place they had to run into when the gale started but it was not enough to allow any of us to make any progress north. We are now well out of fresh food and are working our way through the canned stuff. Much of these cans are only in the locker as they are the unwanted residue from dozens of voyages. We have had some gastronomic successes though. A long lost can of Spam contributed to an almost Full English breakfast one day. Spam has been an illegal substance in the previous nine countries visited (and should really be illegal everywhere) so I don’t know where it came from but it was startlingly good when fried crispy. It was safe enough today to launch the dinghy. We motored across the lagoon and a big pod of dolphins came to investigate, as they are presumably contracted to do as this place is called Dolphin Reef. Three of them stayed to play and we swam around with them for a bit. A first for me. No pictures though as this crew didn’t bring any kit for underwater photography.

25:32.02N 034:38.12E Port Ghalib, Egypt, Thursday 14th May 2009
We left Dolphin Reef on Tuesday afternoon crashing through 20 knots of wind from the northwest. We set off with the intention of running back if it got nasty but by the early hours of Wednesday morning it was OK so we carried on to Port Ghalib arriving before lunch for fairly painless Egyptian formalities. We did have to have to be checked for Swine Flu though. Port Ghalib is a big new swanky resort with hotels, housing, restaurants and shops which is geared up for dive boat charters. The only thing it seems to be lacking is more than a handful of paying customers. Wednesday night was cholesterol catch-up night and we pigged out on cheeseburgers and beer in an otherwise empty ‘TGI Friday’s’ (a corporate name that makes little sense in a Moslem country if you ask me). With more beers in the ’50 Bar’ in the Marina Diving Hotel we took in a belly-dancing show but there wasn’t a lot of belly to be seen as the dancers were all a bit skinny. We did some happy-hour cocktails and Egyptian food this evening with Graham and Val (Siver Heels) who turned up this morning.

25:32.02N 034:38.12E Port Ghalib, Egypt, Saturday 16th May 2009
Provisioning here is proving to be a bit difficult. There is not much in the way of a regular Egyptian community out here in the desert. The hotel nearby has a stiff price list for boat food but even so they could only supply about half of what we wanted. We have some beer and chocolate now though so things are not critical. We have been hanging out at the Grande Café where they do a Happy Hour from 8 till 10, two-for-one Sakhara lager and a nice grilled chicken. I even tried a shisha pipe but it was only for the cinematographic effect. There is something a bit Hollywood about these Red Sea diving resorts and itwouldn’t surprise me to see Indiana Jones racing around in the marina. Perhaps making a sequel called ‘Raiders of the Lost World ARC’?

26:59.57N 033:59.87E 17m south of Hurghada, Tuesday 19th May 2009
We set off from Port Ghalib yesterday morning to have an overnight run up to Hurghada but it’s been bouncy with 30 knot+ winds against us and progress is slow. ‘Silver Heels’ ran for shelter inshore before dawn but anyone who can spend seven years just cruising past Thailand is in no real hurry.

27:13.51N 033:50.50E Hurghada Marina, Egypt, Wednesday 20th May 2009
Hurghada Marina is another new, barely open, resort where nothing looks to be more than a few months old. We ate at a restaurant onshore last night and I had filet mignon of camel with a chilli and chocolate sauce. It was very good. I also had an excellent wheat beer from Luxor. And you thought beer and chocolate was just sailing food!

22:33.75N 033:46.87E Endeavour Harbour, Tawila Island, Strait of Gubal, Egypt. Saturday 23 June 2009
Behind the glossy façade of the new marina at Hurghada we found a real town, admittedly touristy and obviously Egyptian. All kinds of good things could be purchased there using mobile phone, credit card and cash, just like the folks do out west. Supermarkets and alcoholic beverage suppliers even delivered stuff direct to our boat. Haircuts, fishing tackle and female
bar-room singers were all also within easy reach. Makes your head spin with the decadence of it all. On Wednesday we had a really good and inexpensive seafood meal out on the town with Graham and Val (Silver Heels); Graham and Suzy (Eeyore) and Peter (Cool Change). By Thursday evening I was struggling with a mild dose of King Tut’s Revenge. It was just me; I think I’m getting a bit sensitive to seafood. It was nowhere near as bad as the Tonga Trots but it kept me in my cabin all day. We have now left Hurghada and have parked up in strong wind at Endeavour Harbour twenty miles up the coast. They give places fancy names here but this is just an inlet in an uninhabited desert island near the bottom of the Gulf of Suez. We’re not finding any weevils in the ship’s biscuits any more but we spotted a couple of cockroaches sauntering around recently so we have some in-boat chemical warfare going on.

27:49.72N 033:34.97E Marsa Zeitiya, Gulf of Suez, Wednesday 27th May 2009
After a few days in strong winds at Endeavour Harbour we got what we thought was a lull on Tuesday morning and struck out to Marsa Zeitiya about 30 miles up the coast. It wasn’t a lull at all but we made it. Just. While we were edging through some reefs about half way there, the seawater impeller broke up and the engine coolant system boiled over and burst a pipe (again).
Fixing stuff while rolling around and trying keep from being blown onto the rocks is only fun when it’s over. Good helming Steve. Marsa Zeitiya is no better than Endeavour Harbour apart from having some oil rigs to look at. Canadian single-hander Peter ‘Cool Change’ has been stuck here a long time and seems to be going slightly mad. We had him over for beer and curry last night.

28:20.89N 033:06.78E Ras Gharib, Gulf of Suez, Thursday 28th May 2009
We set off from Marsa Zeitiya yesterday evening and had an overnight motor to Ras Gharib. The waves and wind were all too nasty to sail. The coastline here is still mountainous desert but is littered with oil tank farms and lit up with gas flares. The shipping lanes are squeezed close to shore in the Gulf of Suez. That and the oil offshore production platforms all made for a
busy night. Ras Gharib holds the distinction of being my first place of work as an adult all of 31 years ago. I was a snivelling mudlogging geologist at the time, pining for hearth and home. I had a rough journey there from Newcastle. My plane ticket had been cancelled by my office, by mistake, and I had to talk them into holding the plane on the runway at Newcastle until it was sorted out. The Kenyan Airways flight out of London didn’t want to land in Cairo because of some fog and landed at Jeddah instead, where the quickest way back to Cairo was to go to south of the Equator (my first time) to Nairobi; get a hotel and fly back to Cairo the next day. I landed in Cairo stone-deaf from some problem with decompression and made my way to another Cairo airport by sign language where an ex-Korean War Dakota flew me on to Ras Gharib. The final part of the trip involved dragging a drunk ex-Vietnam War helicopter pilot and an Egyptian military observer out of the bar in the Ras Gharib base to take me out to a BP/Deminex exploration drilling-rig that had been converted from an old trawler. Anyway, I played a tiny part in establishing the Egyptian oil industry. Also after I brokered the Camp David Agreement and peace with Israel in 1979, President Anwar Sadat gave me a medal and a huge palace overlooking the Nile. I made that last bit up.

29:03.47N 032:37.97E Mersa Thelemet, Gulf of Suez, Friday 29th May 2009

Another overnight motor last night got us to the anchorage of Marsa Thelemet. We slept all day to catch the northbound tide this evening up to Suez (hurray!) but 5 miles out this evening we got walloped by 40 knot headwinds (boo!) which is too much even for the salt-crusted seadogs that we are. We retreated with our seadog tails between our legs back to where we started.

29:03.47N 032:37.97E Mersa Thelemet, Gulf of Suez, Saturday 30th May 2009

The wind generator finally got wrecked in 40 knot winds. It was good while it lasted. We’re not going anywhere soon. Everton lost in the Cup Final which has depressed the crew. Wherever you are, you’re with the BBC.

29:03.47N 032:37.97E Mersa Thelemet, Gulf of Suez, Sunday 31st May 2009

The wind is still a howling gale and, even thought this is a well protected anchorage, we are still getting very rattled about and water is being blown over the deck. Just to add insult to injury we have also been in a sandstorm most of the day and the cockpit now looks like a sandpit. Nigella Lawson has been read a lot recently for inspiration with the food we have left. She has some kid’s recipes that include expressed breast milk but we won’t be trying them. It’s impossible to get hold of any here.

29:56.85N 032:34.37E Suez Yacht Club, Suez Canal, Tues 2nd June 2009

We had a nasty trip from Marsa Thelamet to Ras Sudr yesterday. There were strong winds and a dust storm and we had to hug the coast most of the way to keep out of boat-stopping waves. At the Ras Sudr anchorage on the east shore of the Gulf the winds became more pleasant and there were even dolphins playing around the boat. An early start this morning and we were tied up at the Suez Yacht Club by lunchtime. Which was nice. Lunch in the Red Sea Hotel and then a bit of boat cleaning which Steve thinks a waste of time as we will get dusty again along the Canal. It might be a wait of a couple of days here for formalities and warships getting priority southbound.

29:56.85N 032:34.37E Suez Yacht Club, Suez Canal, Friday 5th June 2009

This is our fourth night here in lovely Port Suez and it doesn’t look like we can start to transit the Canal now until at least Sunday. There have been submarines and other bit of military hardware swanning south and they get priority over more peaceable vessels, particularly ones with sails. I’m very vexed.

30:35.10N 032:16.34E Ismalia, Suez Canal, Sunday 7th June 2009

After being told we couldn’t leave Suez until Sunday we set to work doing some repairs then on Saturday afternoon we got one hours’ notice to take on a pilot and go. Naturally it was not easy and by the time we got to the Great Bitter Lake the Egyptian Army had had time to throw a floating bridge across the canal ahead of us. There was lots of shouting. By the early hours of this morning we were moored in Ismalia where we are once more waiting for a pilot for the run up to Port Said and freedom. The Suez Canal has coincidentally played a bit-part in my own family history. Most recently were my dad’s military adventures in Malaya that took him and fellow squaddies this way in the 1950’s. In 1916 my great-grandfather Joe had a one-way trip through here to Mesopotamia to machine-gun some Turks who very un-sportingly shot back. And as early as 1915 my great-uncle Reg of the East Lancs Regiment was in the area also fighting off Turks. The Turks at that time were attempting a hostile takeover of the Suez Canal Company. Of course, the canal wouldn’t even be here at all if it wasn’t for great-great uncle Ferdinand whose steadfast refusal in 1854 to admit a mistake with the coordinates turned a small drainage ditch project in Zululand into a major seaway in Egypt. More lies obviously.

31:32.21N 032:32.09E Eastern Mediterranean Sunday 7th June 2009

A pilot called Mohammed turned up and we had a days’ motor through the desert to Port Said where the pilot jumped off on to a launch, clutching his baksheesh. It was a happy moment to sail out of the harbour into the evening sun of the Mediterranean.
There are a couple of days at sea for us now until Larnaca, Cyprus.

06. Indian Ocean, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Aden 2009

This blog runs from Phuket, Thailand in January 2009 with sailing westward in the northern Indian Ocean calling at Sri Lanka, Maldives, Oman and arriving at Aden, Yemen by April. Crew were for the first leg to Sri Lanka were Scotsman Colin Laidlaw and Canadian Leon Lee. Both returning for a second taste of the lash. Colin continued on to the Maldives where he was meeting up with his soon to be wife, Belinda. For Maldives island hopping, old friends Mike Barker and Jacqui Clemson flew out and for the ocean passage to the Arabian coast I recruited an old university friend, Tim Relton and a Liverpudlian, Steve Rolands. All blog posts were originally emailed, in more or less real-time by satphone, to the http://blog.mailasail.com/graptolite site.

07:49.25N 098:21.25E Chalong Bay, Phuket, Thailand Sunday 11th January AM

Now all fully crewed with Colin and Leon now back onboard we had a fine cruise around Phang Nga Bay and did some ‘cave boating’ in the dinghy. The sea caves here are real caves with stalactites and everything and with a bit of hunting around you can usually find one to paddle into with a torch for a few hundred metres until popping out into a big open space in the hollow centre of the island.

We had the usual feast of giant shrimp on the barbie for dinner and then we were back in Chalong Bay to clear out to go to Sri Lanka. After a last night out ashore the weather had blown up and Bonnie ended up submerged after unsuccessfully boarding the bouncing dingy (1). Returning to where we had left Grapto in the crowded anchorage we found she had dragged her anchor some distance but cleverly managed to miss other boats on the way (2). After re-anchoring, the bracket holding the engine alternator on snapped off and our current problem is where to find a welder who will do a house-call on a Sunday (3). Problems with this boat usually come in threes and always seem to happen at night in howling wind.

07:45.53N 097:47.73E Andaman Sea, Wednesday 14th January PM

The welder was way too busy for a house-call. We solved it by propping the engine up on paperback books so we could take the mounting to Mohammed (the Volvo-Penta agent) for welding. It took a couple of goes and the first try had it, not usefully, welded on upside down. Several taxi rides across the island later and we had the engine going which was just as well as were dragging anchor again and starting to bang into a dive boat next to us. We said farewell to Bonnie who was going home to the US and Colin, Leon and their intrepid skipper headed out of Chalong Bay in the early evening. It looks like it will be a fast sail to Galle, Sri Lanka and we should be there in six or seven days.

07:27.38N 092:36.48E, Bay of Bengal, Indian Ocean, Friday 16th Jan 20:30 UTC

We had a glut of yellowfin tuna yesterday and one lucky fish got thrown back as it was too big. We passed through the Nicobar Islands about 60 miles ago. Yachts are not allowed to stop there unfortunately; something to do with hostile natives and Russian/Indian military stuff.  From a distance what we saw seemed ok apart from a cruise-ship wrecked on a beach. It’s a bit bouncy but we are making good speed in these NE Monsoon winds.

07:23.91N 091:51.90E , Bay of Bengal Saturday 17th Jan 0300 UTC

No sooner had we reduced our stock of yellowfin than we pulled in an enormous 14kg dorado (aka mahi-mahi). Now we look and smell like fishwives. Should keep us going for a while though. Cap’n Birdseye 

06:20.55N 084:06.17E Bay of Bengal 230 miles east of Galle, Sri Lanka, Monday 19th January PM

We are still screaming along under full sail at 7-9 knots in excellent winds. Leon is producing raw, grilled and curried fish dishes as fast as he can, and Colin is trying not to catch anything too big. We are expecting to arrive at the old Dutch fortress city of Galle sometime Wednesday morning. We could be there earlier but arriving at night is not recommended as we hear they have a tendency to assume you are a sneaky Tamil Tiger attack and start lobbing depth-charges around in the harbour. We saw a ship earlier, the first one in days. It’s starting to get a bit busy again.

06:02.06N 080:13.83E Galle Harbour, Sri Lanka 22 January early AM

We arrived outside Galle harbour early morning and contacted the Harbour Master and the Yacht Agent then we had to sit outside the harbour for the next eight hours waiting for Navy clearance to enter the harbour. This is partly as they have a problem with Tamil Tigers and partly as they couldn’t care less about us yachties. We then had a parade of officials who are, without putting too fine a point on it, are a bunch of thieving bastards. When Customs people come aboard and start using your ship’s stores as a supermarket and filling up their empty briefcases with your booze you know you are in a country that has some problems. I’m trying not to let this influence my opinion of Lankans in general but first impressions usually always count. It has taken from sun-up to sunrise to get most formalities completed and we are promised free-pratique tomorrow when somebody else comes along to see if we have plague or not.

This evening a plausible spiv on the streets called Joseph has already taken us on a tuk-tuk tour of the town and has also promised us laundry, flag-making and tour services and anything else we want. And he also plied us with arrak, a local spirit made from coconut sap toddy. We’ll see how it goes.

06:02.06N 080:13.83E Galle Harbour, Sri Lanka Friday 24 January PM

We fixed up a few things on the boat yesterday and got a supply of courtesy flags made up for Sri Lanka and most of the other new countries coming up down the road. Later Joseph took us to his house to meet his family and have a cup of spiced tea. His original house was destroyed in the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004 and he showed us his album of photos of the aftermath. Joseph is a somewhat self-appointed guide for us but he’s a nice enough chap and this place is difficult to deal with without help or using excessive violence. Colin and I tuk-tuk’d into town yesterday afternoon. It’s a chaotic place with tuk-tuks and motorbikes everywhere; Bollywood music blaring out and piles of tuna and other fish being chopped up at stinky beachside stalls. In the evening we all went with Joseph and Leman, the tuk-tuk driver, to sit on the old sea-walls of Galle Fort as the sun went down and we drank arrak and coke and ate cashews and fried chilies. Very cool. Back on the boat I carelessly slipped over in the heads and I think I’ve done a bit of damage as it hurts like hell to move around. I had to delay our elephant trekking trip. Seems to be improving though. Leon left the boat today and returned to real-life; his version of it anyway. Thanks for the crewing, Leon. I hope to see you back on the boat again sometime.

06:02.06N 080:13.83E Galle Harbour, Sri Lanka Sunday 25 January AM

We had an all-day white-knuckle ride with driver Darsana up through the hill country to Kandy and then in the evening went to a very kitsch Sri Lankan dance show and then on to the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic. It’s an important and busy Buddhist site so we were not able to get very close to the tooth itself. We had dinner with Americans Bill & Phyllis off ‘Gaia’, who are parked alongside us in the harbour. Kandy could be a very nice city. It is around a lake and is surrounded by wooded hills and has a nice Spring climate but there is the usual Lankan chaos all around. Few buildings look like they have ever been completed properly and the roads are a nightmare. Along the coast road there is still evidence of a lot of partially wrecked property from the 2004 Tsunami but up in the hills, I’m not sure what excuse they have. It is hard to describe the roads properly, partly because I had my eyes closed most of the time and partly because there is so much going on that defies explanation. The roads themselves are narrow and bumpy but it is the variety of things using the road that is the real problem as everything jostles for space each going at different speeds. The slowest moving things are cows, feral dogs, children on bicycles, little old ladies with parasols and sometimes elephants. The cows and old ladies go wherever they please. The next speed bracket includes pedestrians, cyclists and tractors. These usually travel against the flow and seem to need no more than an inch or two of clearance. A faster group are tuk-tuks and motorbikes. They think they are the kings of the road but everybody else thinks they’re invisible. The fastest stuff are cars and vans, trucks and buses and they differ only in the size of the gap they can squeeze through at high speed. Double white lines, blind corners and hills usually start a frenzy of overtaking and horn-honking involving all the speed categories. This morning, after a night in a hotel in Kandy, we went elephant-riding. It’s a painful process even without a bad back. Colin and I had big black bristly beast each and a mahout to poke at it. Then on to the Elephant Orphanage to feed the babies and wander down to the river with about 80 of the big ones to have a swim and wallow. Followed by another white-knuckle ride back to Galle.

05:19.64N 077:36.36E Northern Indian Ocean, Tuesday 27th Jan AM

After a last bit of being ripped-off, this time with overpriced provisions and half-filled gas bottles, we escaped from Galle under the suspicious eye of the Navy machine gun post. I don’t expect to be back any time soon. So now we are enroute to Male in the Maldives and should make landfall in a couple of days. There’s not really much land to fall onto though and rising sea levels are likely to cover the whole string of atolls by the end of the century. As the tourism people almost said “Come and see us while we are still here”. There’s almost no wind but we are getting some whales and dolphins under the boat to look at.

04:10.25N 073:29.43E at anchor, Male Atoll, Maldives Thursday 29th January AM

After a fairly gentle sail for a bit over 400 miles, we arrived in the Maldives at first light. Male, the capital, looks to be a cluster of pastel coloured high-rise buildings squeezed on to a tiny island. I wondered aloud why the Dutch chose that particular island for the capital out of the hundreds they had a choice of. Colin said probably as it’s near the airport. It’s been a long trip with just two on watch.

04:13.17N 073:32.31E Hulhumale, Maldives, Saturday 31st Jan PM

We have been having a bit of trouble recently with the engine not going as fast as it should. After spending a couple of days eliminating all the very expensive and unlikely causes like seized up gearboxes, we cracked and tracked down a Volvo-Penta engineer who took a few minutes to diagnose blocked injector nozzles from dirty (almost certainly Sri Lankan) diesel. Should be up and running tomorrow. Male, the capital of the Maldives is not exactly party-central being completely alcohol and pig-free. The place seems relatively prosperous but that will be almost entirely due to the income generated from the booze and pork-rib fueled partying in the 90-odd resorts up and down the Maldivian atolls. There is a form of apartheid going on here which I hadn’t really appreciated before I came where foreigners are mostly kept separate from locals. Just as well really as the locals think swimming fully-dressed is a neat idea.

03:55.18N 073:27.27E Maldives

It’s been a while since I did a blog but there’s not been much of interest going on apart from polishing the deck. I had some problems with the watermaker not working which was a concern given the dusty dry desert countries coming up. A local agent for the watermaker company turned out to not exist so I got in somebody from another company who hadn’t a clue but thought it might be part of the pump. I ordered a new one for a mere £800. Friends Mike and Jacqui came bearing the said part and water was flowing inside an hour. The pair of them are working their way through my Middle East booze supply as we explore the islands and resorts in the sunshine. There is a difficulty in anchoring here as the water is either too shallow or hundreds of metres deep. We hit on a way to anchor on a vertical wall of coral by dropping 10m of chain in the water and driving to the beach until it sticks.

Ms J. wants a word….

It’s totally untrue, we have only made a small indent into the Captain’s cocktail locker. However we have only been here 48 hours. So far the resorts have saved the day by being wet (remember we are in dry territory). If things get really tight we will have to throw the Skipper into a long boat and confiscate the grog! Why are pirates called pirates? …..Cause they arrr-harrh-haha-arrh!

Capt’n Jack xx 

04:13.17N 073:32.31E Hulhumale, Maldives, Sunday 22nd Feb PM

Mike, Jacqui and myself have been busy exploring the resorts of South and North Male’ Atolls for the past couple of weeks. Not a lot to say about them as they are all fairly similar. They are all perfect little islands with thatched bungalows, palm trees, white sand, swimming pool blue sea and a surrounding coral reef with lots of pretty fishes. It has to said though that after the steel drums of the Caribbean, the hula of Polynesia and the didgeridoos of the Outback, there seems to be a lack of any indigenous musical culture hereabouts and the ‘soundtrack’ of the place seems to be missing. But still, nowhere is really perfect. Mike and Jacqui left on the afternoon flight today back to the frost and rain of Blighty. Sounds nasty but I’ve only got a vague recollection of what being cold is like. I’ve got a couple of days now by myself back near Male’ to do laundry and one or two boat repairs then I get more crew.

04:13.17N 073:32.31E Hulhumale, Maldives, Sunday 25th Feb PM

Tim Relton turned up yesterday to crew to Egypt. Tim once lived in a room opposite me in a student house in Newcastle upon Tyne in 1975. We did a bit of climbing and caving as students and as a graduation present to ourselves in 1978, four of us went to the Northern Indian Himalayas to bag and unclimbed mountain. The mountain very nearly bagged us but that is another long story. Since then, job and family got in the way and I completely lost touch with all of them. Partly as I had convinced myself (with no evidence at all) that Tim at least had met an untimely end involving gravity and a hang-glider. Over 30 years later, the t’internet and a few idle moments got us back in touch. It seems both of us have found jobs and families to be more ephemeral than expected and it’s obviously a good time for more epic adventures. He looks very old though!

04:13.17N 073:32.31E Hulhumale, Maldives, Saturday 28th Feb AM

Steve Rowlands flew in to Male’ yesterday and that should complete the crew for the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea legs. My main engine alternator is unfortunately in bits on some workbench somewhere which is cramping our style. They have had some public holidays here which are slowing the repairs down. But when that’s done, we just need a bit of food provisioning and we can be off. Maybe after a bit more snorkelling in the atolls. Provisioning here is not going to be easy and everything will need to be hand carried on two ferries and a dinghy. They only seem to eat bananas, coconuts, tuna and rice here. The only cheese available comes in tins with Arabic writing on it. From past experience I know it’s pretty disgusting, but we’ll be getting some anyway for emergency munchies.

04:37.74N 073:23.90E Akirifushi Island, North Male’ Atoll Wednesday 4th March

Yesterday we were able to make an escape from Male’ after paying some more huge bills for repairs and official rip-off taxes. First stop was Bodubados Island where I knew there was a fairly pleasant resort which I previously visited with Mike and Jacqui a couple of weeks ago. We had dinner and a few drinks in the bar with a Bob Marley clone entertaining (it was Reggae Night). This morning we had a snorkel on their excellent coral reef. Then we headed north and just before dark anchored off the small uninhabited island of Akirifushi in the northern part of North male’ Atoll. We had another snorkel in the twilight where several lobsters narrowly avoided be coming dinner. Tim is cooking something vegetarian as I write. The plan now is to meet up with another boat, called ‘Traveler’, in Uligamu and sail in a small convoy with them to Oman in few days time.

04:13.17N 073:32.31E Hulhumale, Maldives, Sunday 8th March PM

Everything seemed to be going so well. While heading north to Uligamu on Thursday, the expensively and recently repaired alternator unrepaired itself. It left us no choice but to return to Male’ overnight. On Fridays here it’s no use expecting any activity unrelated to Islam. Saturday also came and went with no sign of Rizza the engineer. Sunday too now is almost over. It’s all getting to be a bit irksome. How does one exist on a boat with no alternator and no shore power? Lots of power is needed for all kinds of creature comforts, like making drinking water and playing DVDs. The answer is to have a generator as well. However, last night while watching a Korean War movie (in Korean, thank you Mike & Jacqui) we suddenly had a blackout due to overheating. We found a sticky clear jelly filling the inside of the sea water cooling system of the generator. It had also wrecked the blades in the seawater pump. People will say it could have been a careless passing jellyfish that had been pureed through the mesh but we are sure we had been attacked by the dreaded Maldivian Snot Monster. After picking up a few tips on generator repair from my brother Duncan while in Australia it only took a few hours of cursing this morning to get it up and running again but the busted diodes of the alternator needs more than amateur attention. Where is that Rizza? 

04:15.30N 073:19.08E running north Friday 13th March AM

Tempting fate yesterday, I started the paperwork to leave the Maldives without having a functional boat. When I got back from Male’, I found Rizza and an electrician had been toiling away to get things sorted out now their equivalent of Christmas was over. In the nick of time too, with another Friday around the corner. The root cause of the alternator failures turned out to be a dodgy electronic battery switch. Naturally no replacement for it was to be had in the Maldives but they cobbled some more old-fashioned switchgear together and by late evening we were away. The plan now is to call into Uligamu but just for some top-up fuel. There will be no boats to convoy with as they all left days ago but I’m expecting to catch up with them in Salalah.

08:50.31N 069:33.15E Arabian Sea 1030 miles from Salalah, Monday 16th March AM

Nothing much is happening out here in the Arabian Sea. There is not much wind, no big waves, no ships and no fish or any other kind of wildlife come to that. All pretty dull really. There was a bit of excitement yesterday when Tim pointed out ‘smoke’ pouring out of the engine room. A pipe with engine coolant in it had burst and sprayed out green-coloured water. Everything had overheated and turned it all to steam. It was fun while it lasted. Tim and Steve seem to be on the same page as me as far as Life, the Universe and Everything is concerned so I can’t get my usual amusement by shocking the captive-audience with lurid theories on the origins and follies of Homo sapiens. We have also had some very closely fought games of ‘Trivial Pursuits’. How come we all know the same stuff?

11:00.05N 065:33.45E Arabian Sea 750 miles southeast of Salalah, Wednesday 18th March PM

Still no fish. I’m glad I have the photographic evidence that fish do get caught off this boat. The winds are still light, and the sea is like a mill pond but the asymmetric spinnaker has been doing good service and we’ve been making around 5-6 knots. We’ve seen only a handful of tankers and freighters in the distance since setting off but no other yachts. Nothing much to do here but read and sleep. ‘Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ is nearly finished. What a strange book. I don’t think it’s going to be changing my life though as the blurb suggests.

13:42.78N 060:44.99E Arabian Sea 435 miles southeast of Salalah, Saturday 21st March AM

We finally dragged a couple of fish up from this watery desert. The first fish looked a bit nasty with a skinny body and huge head and teeth but the second one was a reasonable-sized dorado. The dorado disassembled over two days into some sashimi (raw and wriggling) with wasabi, barbequed kebabs with lime and traditional fish, chips & peas. It will do lunch today and then we will be needing some more. I’ve just been reading ‘In the Heart of the Sea’ about a sunken whaling ship in the Pacific and cannibalism among the survivors. I doubt it will come to that. The wind has been light to nonexistent for a few days now. The asymmetric spinnaker has been useful in winds around 6 knots and the engine in anything less. Last night it was so still that the stars were reflected in the sea and the last time I saw that was in the Coral Sea and that time we had to do so much motoring that we ended up running out of diesel. We’ll eat Steve first.

16:36.12N 055:03.86E 60 miles ESE of Salalah Tuesday 24th March AM

If this wind keeps up we should be there sometime this evening. The luminous bugs in the water have been giving good displays recently and it looks like the trail from a rocket behind us in the night. Apart from that there has been no marine life worth speaking of. The useless fishing lines got tangled under the boat the other day (again) and required a raid by Commander Pickup of the SBS to cut them free. The mini-scuba gear comes in handy now and then. A helmet as used for canoeing would be a useful addition as I usually seem to bash my head on the boat bottom, judging by the antifouling paint that gets on my scalp.

16:56.19N 054:00.35E Mina Salalah, Oman Wednesday 25th March AM

We arrived at Salalah yesterday evening. The coast is mountainous desert, but the port looks like a modern, well run place with a big busy container terminal. And there is me thinking it would be just a couple of Bedouin tents and a few camels. The available cruising guides for the area are a tad out of date. Everyone seems scarily very helpful and laid-back. Also, everyone seems to be called Mohammed. We just got the keys for a hire car from a Mr Fix-it called Mohammed without doing any paperwork. We’re off to see Customs and Immigration now which is always a good test of a country’s character.

16:56.19N 054:00.35E Mina Salalah, Oman Saturday 28th March PM

On Friday we took a drive up into the mountains. It’s just a completely Martian landscape without a blade of grass but there seems to be enough of something for the camels. The landscape on the coastal strip near Salalah is not much better. Everything looks like building rubble. Some of it is in fact building rubble but mostly it’s just the natural state of the ground here. Just dry dusty and rubbly. The architecture in town is not particularly inspiring, to my eyes anyway, as it is just a sprawling mass of concrete boxes with the odd Arabic flourish. We have been eating some fine Omani meals recently. I’m usually not much of a fan of Middle Eastern cuisine but this stuff has been really good. Tonight, we turned up an Omani restaurant and were surprised to be shown into a small room with just a carpet and some cushions. Eating off the floor using fingers is something most westerners have forgotten how to do by adulthood. The only ‘oasis’ of Western life near the port is the Oasis Club which is one of only a handful of places you can get beer. Carry-outs are not allowed and now we have tragically almost completely run out of booze on the boat. We have had a few delays with irritating and possibly insoluble problems like the fresh-water pump needing a replacement, but we should be off to Aden soon.

16:05.40N 053:41.33E Gulf of Aden Tuesday 31 March

After a final flurry of provisioning, money-changing, battery and flag-buying we left Salalah yesterday evening and steamed out into bandit country. The Royal Navy are tracking our progress to Aden, or at least I’m telling them where I am. There is a time delay though on this blog posting in case you were wondering about the advisability of telling everyone else exactly where we are. The crew were getting a bit on the smelly side without hot and cold running water so during my night watch I fiddled with the burnt-out pressure-switch on the pump. It seems to have worked and now we are all fragrant again.

14:01.88N 051:47.93E Westbound Transit Corridor, Offshore Yemen Wednesday 1 April

We entered the Transit Corridor earlier today. Or at least the one-kilometre wide strip between the eastbound and westbound convoy routes. The idea is that it makes things easier for the naval forces around to patrol the area for pirates. Apart from convoys of big merchant ships scuttling through, we’ve seen nothing so far of either bad guys or good guys. Which I suppose is OK.

13:19.00N 049:31.12E Westbound Transit Corridor, Offshore Yemen Thursday 2 April

OK so far. We’ve had NATO helicopters and warships circling around and calling us all day. We did hear the warships blasting out VHF warning messages for the pirates and we also heard the Maersk Alabama sounding a bit panicky on the radio (Note: The Maersk Alabama was soon after to be attacked by Somali pirates as shown in the movie “Captain Phillips” starring Tom Hanks)