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Monday, December 19, 2011

Cape Verdes–Sal


Teenage mothers with babies on hips or slung over backs, mangy flea ridden dogs roaming the streets, smiley faced kids waiting to tie up our tender (for a fee!), reggae music thumping from scruffy open air bars, women selling fruit and vegetables on the roadside. Welcome to Palmeira, our first port of call on the island of Sal, a low lying (apart from a few volcanic cones) windswept and barren island in the Cape Verde archipelago.


The Cape Verdes lie 325 mils off the African coast and consist of 14 islands – all volcanic including one, Ilha do Fogo, still active. Palmeira, on Sal, is one of three places in the Verdes where yachts can clear in, so it was our first port of call after our six day sail down from the Canary Islands. We dropped anchor at sunset and, after a good night’s sleep, headed off with the necessary documents (passports, boat papers including insurance and ownership).


Clearing in is often long and involved and even more difficult when you don’t speak the language – in this case Crioulo which is a spoken only dialect of Portugese. We stumbled by in basic French, filling in numerous pieces of paper, got our passports stamped and then hit a snag – the fee was 10 euro and we only had five. No problem – catch a local taxi to the nearest town, three miles away, where there is a money machine. The taxis are hilarious – mini vans in a state of disrepair with a driver in an equally abysmal state. He spent 10 mins driving around the town, hanging out of his window whistling and yelling trying to drum up more business….giving us a free tour of the backstreets. Then the music was turned up to the max and off we shot, driving through semi desert at high speed in a van that would never pass WOF in New Zealand to the town of Vila de Espargos.


                 trying to get internet                 local children

Sunday is Sunday anywhere in the world and there was little happening in this ramshackle town. The streets were deserted and the only sound was the delightful music coming from the church. We got our money and headed back to the van…..and sat there for 10 mins as it filled with immaculately dressed churchgoers clutching bibles and babies. The people are very dark skinned and the women have long hair either plaited Bo Derek style or wrapped in turbans. The children are absolutely gorgeous and not too shy to ask for money from visitors. 


We found and paid the port policeman and wandered the scruffy streets past some amazing buildings, many adorned with colourful murals. Fishermen were busy salting their catch at the water’s edge while the local bar was beginning to fill with an assortment of weird and wonderful, but definitely colourful, looking locals.

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banana for our boat boy                                                    woman and baby


Next day, being Monday, we headed back up to Espargos to get a few supplies and internet.  Buying bananas and papaya from a woman sitting on the kerb became exasperating – she wouldn’t budge on a ridiculously high price and insisted we buy two kilos!  We were probably her best customers of the day!  The town was full of people either sitting or milling around…..not the friendliest people we’ve come across, but with poverty and employment rife who can blame them. 


Sal has a population of about 10,000 mostly of mixed African and European descent. It relies heavily on foreign aid as, like all the islands, is poor despite being basically agricultural and producing crops of maize, fruit, sugar cane, beans and potatoes. Tourism is becoming increasingly popular and the south of the island is very tourist orientated with hotels and resorts – many people are attracted to the white sandy beaches and good windsurfing.


Literacy here is 77% but even so, unemployment and poverty are major problems. Few yachtsman visit Sal – most preferring to go straight to Sao Vicente where there is a marina and far better provisioning. Many of those in Sal are en route to Senegal or the Gambia. We were the only New Zealand boat in the anchorage amongst mostly French, German and Dutch boats. After three days in Palmeira we moved to Baia de Mordeira – a long stretch of white sandy beach and crystal clear water.  Unfortunately it was blowing and we were sick of the haze and fine dust that coast everything and reduces visibility.  So after a windy night we upped anchor at 3am and headed to the next island Sao Nicolau, catching a huge dorado en route!


Monday, December 12, 2011

Gran Canaria


Our proposed “few days” in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, turned into 10. Same old story – waiting for parts, then waiting for weather and then Brenda goes and breaks a tooth!. After leaving Lanzarote we sailed down the east coast of Feurteventura, anchoring overnight in Las Playitis…with a sleepy fishing village on one side of the bay and a huge German resort on the other. You could hear the pilates orders coming over the loudspeaker and drifting out to us! We left on sunrise for the long day sail to Gran Canaria with conditions gradually worsening as we got further south. The winds here tend to accelerate at the bottom of the islands and the swell is confused – we knew all that but conditions were still worse than we expected with 30knot winds and short, sharp swells. Not much fun, but we were thrilled with how Bandit performed and anchored in Las Palmas just on dark.


The anchorage was full of cruising boats including two Kiwi boats – Awaroa and Tuatara. The next day Balvenie, a former Picton boat, rocked on in – we’d been chasing them around the Med for several years and finally got to meet Amanda and Mark. The marina was also full of cruising boats preparing for the crossing so it was a very social time with beach parties, dinners/drinks ashore and on various boats….which made our stay there really enjoyable…..but we still just wanted to get going!


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Spinnaker up……………………………………….spinnaker down in forward cabin!!

The weather window for a passage to the Cape Verdes looked good for Monday so, after a fantastic farewell dinner on Balvenie and fun night with Mark, Amanda and Tony off Tactical Directions, we were out of there. Earlier plans to visit neighbouring islands of Tenerife and Gomera went out the window - we were anxious to get this next stage of our Atlantic crossing underway.


First two days were pretty scruffy – 30 knots of wind with a big swell made for  uncomfortable days and nights – we made up a bed on the saloon floor as it was the only reasonable place to snatch sleep. The only good thing was Bandit’s speed – she rocketed along averaging 7 knots – hitting top speed of 12 at one scary stage! But once the wind eased and the swell dropped we had some fantastic sailing on virtually flat seas – much kinder and far less spillage and swearing involved and we still flew along.

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Skipper sleeping on saloon floor.                Skipper dealing with tangled mess

Now, for those who haven’t read our daily blog ( I will relate a story about our new towed generator, the skipper and a fishing line.  By just reading those few words you have probably got the general idea.  The generator is towed behind Bandit on a 20m length of spinning rope……and no, it is not a good idea to put the fishing line out at the same time.  But…we did and the photo shows the aftermath.  What you can’t hear are the swearwords coming out of the skipper’s mouth!!!  Needless to say, from now on Willy the Worm (the generator) does his duty at night and we fish during the day!


On day five we got the spinnaker up and left it up all night. Naturally, when we came to take it down we had issues (what is it with this damn sail??) and we were just pleased there were no onlookers. We even caught a fish on the last day. We anchored in Palmeira Bay on the island of Sal, poured ourselves a big rum and cooked up delicious mahimahi.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Preparing for the Atlantic crossing

Rolled oats; tick. Tea and coffee; tick. Long-life milk; tick. Books (dozens of them); tick. Enough fresh fruit and vegetables for three weeks; tick. A freezer full of prepared meals for rough days; tick. Loo paper; double tick - imagine running out of that mid-Atlantic!
Preparing and provisioning for a three week Atlantic crossing is a mission. In theory (and mentally) we’ve been doing it for five years and are confident Bandit is fully stocked, well equipped and ready to go, but I can’t help having a last minute panic. There just seem to be so many last minute things to do even though we consider ourselves fairly organised.        
A blue water ocean passage is always a challenge, especially shorthanded, but our shake down passage from Gibraltar to the Canary Islands (via Morocco) brought smiles to our faces. In a stiff breeze Bandit went better and faster than we expected. A solid boat weighing 18 tonnes (and that was before the Turkish rugs, Italian marble ware , Sicilian pottery, Moroccan tagine dishes, 20 kg of Italian pasta and 20 litres of Spanish olive oil went on) she proved she had the legs to cope with the strong wind and big swells.
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The only aspect we found difficult was adapting to broken sleep…..although our night watches (four hours off/on) were made easy at times with pilot whales and dolphins accompanying us.   For those who know nothing about sailing…, we cannot anchor at night, yes will go three weeks (give or take a day or two) without \seeing anything but ocean and no, the Atlantic isn’t a frightening prospect – it’s far safer than driving down State Highway One.
Will we get bored? Strange as it seems – there probably won’t be time. There’s navigating, (David navigates by the stars with a sextant as well as GPS), constant watches, meals to prepare, the boat to keep clean and tidy, emails and blogs to write and of course all those books to read as well as snatching sleep whenever possible.
While we’ve done two Atlantic crossings before, we feel complete novices (and a little nervous) going into this one but are looking forward to the challenge. And, once out there on the blue Atlantic with those lazy swells rolling by, the days getting warmer and catching plenty of tuna and mahi-mahi, we’re confident it will be bliss.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Languid Lanzarote

We had a ripping sail from Mohammedia to the Canaries.  With 15-20 knots of wind on the aft quarter Bandit just raced along at a consistent 6-7knots.  We were thrilled that she seemed to grow legs on her first ocean passage and she was very comfortable.
The tiny port on Graciosa


Graciosa is the smallest and northernmost of the Canary Islands and a weary crew anchored there just on sunset, poured a huge Dark and Stormy, had a bowl of hot soup then bed.  After a solid 10 hours sleep we were off to explore the main town of Caleta del Sebo….a tiny settlement on a tiny island.  No roads here just a few sandy tracks serviced by(t)rusty Land Rover taxis.  What a magical place but unfortunately, there was no room for us in the marina.  The friendly port police let us tie up on the ferry dock for a few hours so we had a quick look around…..but could have easily stayed longer.
Grape growing Lanzarote style

Another rip roaring sail around to  Costa Teguise, about halfway down the east coast of Lanzarote.  Anchored in a small harbour but it was a rolly and miserable night as the swell crept in and Bandit did her utmost to stop us from sleeping.  We were off at first light and with winds gusting down off the mountains it was a vigorous sail to Rubicon marina at the bottom of the island.  We had gusts of 30knots at times so pleased we had reefed the main, but we seemed to be constantly reefing the genoa – out, in, out in….but made fast progress.
Lanzarote vineyard and house

Great to get into a marina and have internet (to update blog), supermarkets (fresh food) and catch up with fellow cruisers….including a good few Kiwis. 

Lanzarote looked intriguing from the sea so we hired a car to explore the interior.  What a place!  With recent (1800s) volcanic activity the entire island is a pockmarked lunar-like landscape – piles of red and black scoria, amazing rock formations and of course dozens of craters and volcanic peaks.
View from a volcano on Lanzarote

We stopped at a winery, fascinated to see hardy vines growing in the scoria surrounded by rocks.  We learnt that the vines are planted in volcanic ash and receive enough moisture from overnight dew to survive.  Yields are low but the wines we tried were simply delicious.

In the very north of the island is Mirador del Rio – an amazing spot sculpted into the rock by local artist Cezar Manrique, who is responsible for much of the astonishing architecture on the island.  Mirador sits at the top of a sheer 300m bluff and its huge windows overlook Graciosa, providing stunning views.  Carved into the volcanic rock in a sympathetic way, the spot is not visible from Graciosa – we had sailed right underneath it and not seen it!
The amazing Mirador del Rio

Cesar Manrique house

Intrigued by this Cezar Manrique we simply had to visit his house which is these days a museum and monument to his vision.  It is truly amazing – all carved into the rock and totally in keeping with the landscape, it includes water features, rooms with amazing picture windows and some fairly astonishing architecture.  Manrique’s touch is visible throughout Lanzarote.

Amazing mosiac
As is typical of Spanish architecture, houses on Lanzarote are low rise and painted white.  Gardens are sparse with palm trees, cactus and geraniums the only noticeable plants.  The volcanic soils in parts are fertile and crops are grown, but only a tiny fraction of the island is cultivated.
The west coast is reminiscent of Ireland’s rugged west coast – and with a big Atlantic swell running in it made for spectacular viewing.

Naturally we avoided the horrid holiday resorts along the east coast – we accidentally drove into one and, as soon as we saw the Irish pubs and English breakfast signs out, realised our mistake and got out of there fast.  Luckily for us, the swarms of holidaying English and German tend not to leave their resorts leaving the rest of the island free for us to explore!  

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Mystical Morocco

Mystical Morocco proved as intriguing, dirty, cheap and crowded as we’d remembered from previous visits.  A great place to provision from the markets, buy the obligatory hand painted tagine dish, have a cheap meal out, explore the medinas and kasbahs…..and then get out!

Olives, olives and more olives

Now...which one to buy?
The Atlantic swell meant we couldn’t risk going into Rabat – our preferred destination.  The river entrance and sandbars mean it’s only safe to enter if the swell is less than two metres – we were getting three to four and it was predicted to increase so we kept heading down the coast to Mohammedia.  There was one free space on the floating pontoon in one of the filthiest harbours we’ve been into ever and we were surrounded by scruffy Moroccan fishing boats and even scruffier Morrocan fishermen!  Within minutes of docking we had a parade of officials visit us – customs/immigrations/port police - all incredibly friendly and keen to mention they knew New Zealand had won the World Cup. Luckily we had some All Black souvenirs to give them. Formalities completed and shore leave passes issued we set off to explore Mohammedia – an interesting enough, if small, town.

Sale medina

Next day we caught the highly efficient train to Rabat where we spent the entire day exploring the medinas in both Rabat and neighbouring Sale, across the river.  Time stands still in these market places that have existed since ancient times.  The produce on sale was astounding including fragrant spices, aromatic fresh herbs, freshly dug and picked vegetables and fruit and – to my horror – freshly dressed chicken…killed to order.  I had to run past that stall but the squawking from the unlucky bird followed me!
Waiting for the right winds meant we had four nights in Mohammedia and over that time a handful of cruisers came in, including a boatload of friendly Germans who rafted next to us.  They were on a tight schedule and told us they’d be leaving Monday at 3pm.  In true Germanic style, they let lines go on the dot only to return half an hour later with a fouled prop.  Their frustration mounted as the rope proved impossible to cut – and we felt incredibly sorry for the skipper forced to snorkel in the fetid waters.  Help came in the form of Czech sailors who had a diver and compressor on board and, at 8pm, the rope was finally cut free and the yacht left.
Spices galore
Bandit in Mohammedia marina
After filling with cheap diesel we left on Tuesday morning to find the wind Gods smiling.  
We had a fantastic sail to Graciosa, the northernmost and smallest Canary Island, averaging six knots and catching a good tuna en route.  Didn’t start the engine once.  It doesn’t get much better than this!
Wonderful door in the medina

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Gibraltar - again!

Here we are back in Gibraltar – five years to the day we bought Bandit here in 2006!  We only meant to be here for a few days but, as usual, thanks to delays in spare parts arriving and the weather (six metre swells in the Atlantic yesterday)….we are still here.  A few Kiwi boats left yesterday – Haereroa from Fiordland and Loose Cannon from Nelson – but we opted to wait until the swells in the Atlantic dropped to a more reasonable level. 

Sam, Brenda and David by the 56m motoryacht Sam is chef on

Another incentive is that son Sam is here – he is chef on a 56m motoryacht that left Livorno on Wednesday but struck bad weather and were forced to shelter in Alicante (good timing for the start of the Volvo race Sam!).  Their hard luck story was the baby grand piano…bolted to the floor broke loose and caused a bit of damage.  Oh well….if you have these toys on board I guess you have to live with the consequences.

We’re not fans of Gibraltar.  Having spent a winter here in 2006/2007 we swore we would never return.  But the lure was the fantastic English supermarket with its ready meals (for those rough nights), Christmas treats including Christmas cake, pudding and mince pies and of course the duty free booze!
Bandit back in Gibraltar

Hope to leave as soon as the swell dies and head for Rabat in Morocco and then to the Canary Islands to catch up with the rest of the Kiwi boats crossing the Atlantic this year.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Hot and sunny in Spain

We're back in Almerimar Marina in southern Spain where we spent a few weeks in 2006.....Bandit was a new toy then....we'd just bought her in Gibraltar.  It's nice to be back in a great marina with excellent facilities, a fantastic supermarket and brilliant after day of sunshine.
He's up there somewhere....David up the mast

 It's work time though - we've hauled and antifouled, put in a new anchor winch, new gearbox, sanded and varnished, provisioned and cleaned and scrubbed.
Busy in the boatyard

Now we're both off - David to NZ to visit grandkids and family and Brenda to Thailand to spent a week with youngest son Ryan (can't wait) via Abu Dhabi to catch up with friends.  Back on board October 24 with bows firmly pointed towards the Canary Islands to catch up with the rest of the "team" Caribbean bound.


Pleased to leave Menorca as a huge thunderstorm swept in behind us – sucking up all the wind, but we still managed to trickle along.  Anchored at Cala Ratjada then slowly moved down the east coast, stopping at Porto Cristo, Cala Baca, Porto Colon, Isola Moltana and into the Bay of Palma itself.  
Anna and Glen

We’d spent lots of time here on Sea Gypsy in 2000, Aschanti in 2004 and Bandit on 2006….so we didn’t linger.  Anna and Glen enjoyed the sights of Palma de Mallorca and we enjoyed tapas at Bar Dia….a favourite from previous times. 
Glen, Anna and David in Palma

Watched the opening of the World Cup at a bar in Palma Nova – what an awful place…..full of package holiday Poms (no offence to any English friends but really…..they should have a drafting gate at the airport!).
Sangrias in Palma