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.