Thursday 26 June 2008

Mooring, prawns and the Mestral

After a quick two-hour run past a tourist hell, a stretch of untouched coast and a nuclear power station we anchored for breakfast and a doze in a small man-made bay on the north side of Port Calafat. Then onwards with the east wind behind us, exploring every twist of the shore, nosing into small coves, taking the measure of the pretty coast. Due to the size of the waves, I didn’t attempt a landing but pressed on to Port l’Estany just south of l’Ametlla de Mar.

Port l’Estany is a beautiful natural harbour suitable only for small boats. The waves and the wind made the narrow entrance look fairly tricky but we negotiated it without mishap and ghosted down the narrow inlet, the water so shallow in parts that the oars scraped. I eventually dropped the anchor off the stern then waded ashore and tied a line from the bows to a large rock. Then, unhappy with how she lay, I did it all again securing the boat bows to the wind. With everything squared away and OB locked I walked the mile into town.

I spoke to a fisherman in the modern port who confirmed that there would be a strong north-westerly Mestral wind the next day. Then weaved through the narrow streets looking for somewhere to drink a quiet beer.

On the way back to the boat I brought some fresh prawns for supper as my friend Pep was coming down for the night. Though in the event he arrived so late—and we, like a pair of uncoordinated apes, spent so much time in the dark and the rain erecting a tent on the shore and then, like Neanderthals in mud, groping for his flip-flop, which had been swallowed by the ooze—that we just drank beer and ate fruit.

I’d re-moored OB, fore and aft again but with the anchor off the bows, so that she would be head to Mestral if it arrived in the night. And arrive it did. The first prolonged gust waking me as surely as a trumpet blast in the ear, I leapt out of the tent to check the mooring lines. The moon was nearly full and ragged strips of cloud tore across the sky, the wind was raking the shallow water and OB, though moored fore and aft was swinging. The small amount of Mediterranean tide was noticeable here and now that it was out OB was banging her starboard side on a large stone. It was easier to remove the stone than change moorings again so I waded in, wiggled the stone loose then heaved it out of the way. I checked the lines and returned, damp-footed, to bed only to spend the night waking with every gust and springing to the tent entrance to check that she wasn’t dragging. In the end I got up again and, unable to find a large rock on which to tie another line, took a large bight around the tent. If OB dragged the tent would go with her and I would be woken.

We woke at 7—Pep had to be at work for 8—and hurried to strike camp. I rowed him over to his car leaving the anchor buoyed with my small white fender. It was a tricky row with large stones in the shallows and the Mestral blowing hard on the starboard bow. Then I rowed back, picked up our moorings but decided to move somewhere more secure. Once again tied up fore and aft, but this time in deeper water and tucked in to a reedy bank, I went back to sleep in the boat. I awoke refreshed two hours later and still a solid wind blew, sometimes howling past at up to 30 knots.

I cooked the prawns for breakfast with garlic and chilli, then, sailing being out of the question, went for a long walk down the coast to reconnoitre the coves and inlets. This was a worthwhile exercise and having visiting a few places that I’d marked on my map as possibles and found them unsuitable, tramped on until I discovered the perfect, private cove, so small and isolated that its name didn’t feature on the map. I chose my landing place and cleared away the stones from the beach and a couple from under water too.

The tight entrance to Port l’Estany with the Mestral pumping out.

Back at the boat by 3 I prepared her for sea, double reefing the sails and re-furling them for smooth hoisting. The Mestral was easing up and I reckoned that by keeping close in under the land I should stay out of the worst. There were no other boats out but this is common even on the most perfect sailing days. The wind pushed us fast down the narrow channel and as soon as we were out I hoisted the sails and stood in towards the land on a gust, we bore away as it eased and in this way made a passage south. Sooner than expected we passed the cove, it had seemed such a long walk but there it was flying by already. The sailing was good, though challenging at times and I decided to continue south to recce and make the most of being on the water.

We passed la punta de l’Aliga and were heading towards Cap Roig when a freight train of a gust ambushed us, screaming through the pines and howling across the water laying us right over and, like a taunting playground bully, whipping my hat away to leeward. OB luffed and settled and, after a while, so did I. But I was annoyed at losing my hat, with many sunny days forecast I would need it, and I determined to find it.

I located the distant hat, soggily bobbing towards the horizon. Then, unwilling to sail broad in the strong breeze, hove-to, tracking backwards at up to 2 knots until to leeward of the hat. I re-trimmed then sailed upwind towards it as another gust came on. Accelerating towards my hat I pinched at the last moment, hoicked it aboard and slung it in the bilges.

I sailed back up to our private cove, anchored and swam in idyllic solitude, pulled her ashore for a thorough clean and dry out and a meal of sausage with rice. Then finished the day sitting on a rock drinking wine and watching the stars rise up in the east.


Anonymous said...

Hi Ben I've been watching your antics for a while. Very inspiring and well written.

Drop in to and

Cheers Graham

bubbanem said...

Beautiful picture of the "private cove". It's what every sailor on every continent dreams of when he's building his boat.