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Saturday, September 17, 2011

Frustrating Menorca

The narrow harbour in Ciutadella
We were so looking forward to Mahon in Menorca, having heard wonderful things about it.  Our first stop  was Fornells in the north – a fairly ordinary town but the bay offered safe and secure anchorage – important for a good night’s sleep after several at sea. 
The next day, refreshed, we moved a few miles east and found a gorgeous bay with turquoise water– just the spot to do a few maintenance jobs.  However it lost its gloss when the wind got up in the night and Bandit started to roll and pitch like a bucking horse.  By 5am we’d had enough so upped anchor and had a fairly brisk sail around to Mahon and into the marked anchorage area.  It was full of boats sheltering and a none too friendly lot they were......wherever we anchored it was going to be close but no one seemed to be sympathetic.  After several attempts and lots of scowling faces we told the grumpy neighbours we just needed to have breakfast and a cup of tea and would then reassess the situation.  So much for the camaraderie of the cruising community!  Needless to say, the wind dropped and we left ASAP.
The lovely old city of Ciutadella

The south coast of Menorca is lovely – white sandy calas (bays) and beautifully clear water but it is very exposed and after several rolly nights we decided we needed a peaceful night so back into Menorca.  We headed into the harbour itself – a massive indented harbour with lots of good anchoring we thought.  Leaving Bandit in a good spot we headed into the town to explore, provision, internet and enjoy our first Spanish cafe con leche.  The Panerei classic yacht race was on so we indulged in a spot of nostalgia wandering the docks looking at the elegant boats – Creole, Mariette etc. 
We returned to Bandit several hours later to find a note on our stern saying we were anchored in a restricted area.  In fact the only anchoring allowed was in the first anchorage we went to which was a good mile tender ride away over busy waters.  The Mahon harbour authority controls all the dock space and, to be fair, have installed dozens of floating pontoons to which you can tie up....but at a cost.  For us to go onto the dock it was 128euros which just doesn’t figure in our cruising budget.

David’s daughter and husband were arriving the next day and we debated at length options for picking them up.  A long tender ride with bags did not appeal so we decided to risk the authorities’ anger (again) and anchor in the harbour.  We left Bandit the minute the anchor was down and on our return a few hours later, found some angry officials waiting for us telling us to move....which we did.

With southerly winds forecast we opted to go around the north of Menorca and had several nights in beautiful calas before going into Ciutadella where we tied up at the wall for 42 euro, power and water included.  Note to Mahon authorities – a slightly more lenient approach would encourage more cruisers to linger in your city and spend their money in your supermarkets, restaurants and chandlery stores.  Your short sighted approach doesn’t work for us.
A very strange looking motoryacht - Russian owned of course.

Ciutadella is beautiful – a lovely old city renovated beautifully after the Spanish Civil War with tons of character.  We enjoyed lingering here – just soaking up the atmosphere and wandering the cobbled streets

Fantastic fisherman

The one that didn't get away!
We’ve towed a line for 10,000miles in the Med and caught a handful of fish, mostly mackerel.   In Greece we came painfully close to hooking some big tuna – but ended up just losing a lot of gear.  In Corsica this season schools of tuna taunted us – swimming alongside Bandit for miles, surfing the waves beside us and even leaping out of the water like dolphins.....but completely ignoring our lures.  Apparently, tuna will only take the lure if they are hungry and this lot weren’t.
But halfway between France and Menorca our luck changed.  We already lost one lure to something seriously big so knew there were fish out there.  At around 4pm on a hot day, as we hummed along at about five knots the line suddenly whizzed and the rod bent at an alarming angle indicating there was something serious hooked.  Thirty minutes later and we had a huge tuna on deck.  I wouldn’t have made a good cavewoman – I desperately pleaded with David to let it go....but the poor thing was pretty much dead.  And...later that night.....after eating sashimi then tuna steaks with salsa verde, any thoughts of pity for the fish had faded.  It provided enough tuna for 10 meals for the two of us – thanks to the freezer.
That was the highlight of a fairly ordinary two day/two night sail from Porquerolles in the south of France to Menorca.  The wind was frustrating at times (usually early morning and early evening) but we managed to sail most of the way.

The crowded and expensive south of France

August was not the best time in the world to visit the French Riveira – the crowds were unbelievable and the prices eye watering.  Six euros for a coffee in St Tropez and two euros for the smallest ice cream in the world in Villefranche.  This was not going to be a lingering visit!
Which tender is ours?  Crowded south of France

Menton was as beautiful as ever (we spent several weeks here in 2004 while working on the classic schooner Aschanti) and it was fun to sail along the coast oogling at the exquisite waterfront villas in the area.  Villefranche was delightful but we skipped Cannes and Antibes (having visited by car previously) to anchor at Isle St Margarite off Cannes.  Our first experience of a seriously crowded anchorage – there were hundreds of boats in the vicinity and dozens of jet skis making swimming a nightmare.
David and daughter Ping in Villefranche

Onward to St Tropez where the skies above were filled with private jets, small planes and buzzing helicopters and the seas with jetskis, small boats, big boats and yachts.  St Tropez was awful – full of people wanting to be seen and others desperate for a glimpse of someone famous.  The quaint fishing village has long gone and the cobbled streets are chock full of tourists.    The waterfront is a decadent mix of ridiculously expensive superyachts, overpriced cafes and bars and botoxed, permatanned designer clad bodies.  St Tropez beach is undeniably beautiful but crowded so, after a walk along the pristine groomed white sand, we moved on to find a quieter spot. 
Showing off in St Tropez

We overnight at Cavalier sur mer and Le Lavandou – both pleasant enough resort towns - and then across to Porquerolles where the bays are beautiful but as crowded as anything we’ve ever seen.  Brenda’s birthday so we celebrate on board with a bottle of French bubbly before going ashore for a delicious meal of moules mariniere and frites. 
Farewell France – the next day we head for the Balearics.

horses, horses and horses

I know, I know, horses have absolutely nothing to do with sailing – but as I have just spent three weeks working on a big stud farm/livery and showjumping yard inWest Sussex I just had to include them for a bit of variety.
The agency we work for in the UK phoned one sunny day while we were in Le Grazie.  The offer was too good to turn down and with so much work to do on Bandit to prepare for an Atlantic crossing we decided it was a perfect opportunity.  I fly to the UK while David works on Bandit.
With his youngest daughter Ping living nearby it was a great chance also for them to catch up.  Ping ended up helping David sail from La Spezia to Villefranche in France – and I met them there after flying to Nice.
It was fantastic to be with horses again.  I was responsible for the livery yard but got to help out in the showjumping yard which was full of beautiful and expensive Dutch warmbloods.
Some of the yearlings

I got to enjoy the balmy late summer weather in the UK, work with some lovely young grooms and make some new friends.
Two of these – Lucie and Taylor – hosted me on the beautiful Petworth estate they caretake when I left the stud.
It was also a bonus was catching up with former Marlborough friends Frank and Maria Nelson who were passing through the UK.
Frank and Maria

Frank and Maria left Blenheim 14 years ago and were our inspiration to throw in good jobs for an unpredictable life travelling the world doing odd jobs here and there.  It was as refreshing as ever to spend time with them – they are so energising and inspiring.

Things that go bump in the night

During our five seasons sailing the Med we’ve heard plenty of stories of runaway yachts and yes, to our embarrassment Bandit did drag in windy conditions in the Greek Peloponnese. 
Chastened by the experience, we always set the anchor well, put out plenty of chain but still always sleep with one ear open.
So when we heard and felt a thud during a night blow in Le Grazie (mainland Italy) we were up on deck in seconds to find a blue boat snuggling up rather too cosily to Bandit’s stern. 
The wind was screeching down the valley, it was pitch black and with boats swinging it was impossible to decide just who was dragging.  Shining a torch and yelling didn’t raise anyone on the blue boat so we decided to get the hell out of there.
Conditions meant it was impossible for us to board it so we just hoped it was okay.
Next day we were relieved to see it had only dragged into shallower water – definitely a case of it being on the move, not us.

David and Ping barbecuing in Le Grazie

Le Grazie is a gorgeous Italian seaside town on the western shores of the Bay of La Spezia.
We first came to La Spezia in 2004 to join the classic schooner Aschanti for a trip that would take us to the south coast of France, the Balearics, Gibraltar, the Canaries and across the Atlantic to the Caribbean.
A year later we rejoined Aschanti as permanent crew and after a season in the Caribbean returned to the Med and La Spezia, which was Aschanti’s home port.
There was a real sense of déjà vu as we re-explored the town, finding old haunts and meeting up with friends.
Le Grazie is about the only good anchorage in the bay of La Spezia – home to a huge naval port and endless shipyards and marinas.  We did ask the price at one marina when we refuelled and left laughing when they quoted 132 euros – for one night (excluding fuel).

A spot of varnishing

These night time blows were a feature of Le Grazie - tiring and, on one occasion, downright embarrassing.
This time it was us dragging – mainly because there was a marine festival on and so many boats in the bay that we simply could not put out enough chain.
As the gusts intensified to 50knots our GPS alarm went off and we leapt out of bed and up on deck – me thoughtfully grabbing a jacket as I ran past the hanging locker.
Conditions were awful – driving rain, sheet lightning, howling winds and boats dragging all over the bay.
As David powered the engine into life I pulled up the anchor trying to keep a lookout for other boats. I saw one coming sideways towards us and turned to shout a warning to David just as the lightning lit up the nighttime sky.  He was standing in the cockpit stark naked – illuminated for all the world (well the entire bay of Le Grazie) to see.
I couldn’t laugh – this was a serious situation – but afterwards, when we were safely anchored further out, we both had tears rolling down our faces especially as I recalled the looks of those on the other boats – all fully dressed in wet weather gear.  Just how they had the time to be so well prepared I don’t know.