Sunday 17 August 2008

Ants and snails

Apart from the stowaway rat I had other crew aboard in the form of a large family of ants and a snail. The ants I suspected would simply drown as soon as there were a few centimetres of water in the bilges and the snail, who soon became known as Dominique, would probably go the same way if ever she got wet. But surprisingly after the first three days they were still alive.

We had arrived at la Platja de Canyelles on the Costa Brava, I’d hoped to get further but it had been another day of slogging into light winds and large waves. After 13 hours at sea and with 30 miles under our belt it was time to stop. Platja de Canyelles forms a bay about 300 metres across. At the southern end there is a very small port with room for about 60 boats. I hadn’t wanted to use any ports or marinas where I might be expected to pay but the Tramuntana was blowing in the Gulf of Lions and a large swell came rolling down from the north, surging up the steep beach of Canyelles in an alarming manner. The waves didn’t break, but every now and then the water level in the bay rose dramatically with a great frothing wall of water forming on the shore’s edge. Towels and toys were being sucked off the beach and dragged under, only to be spewed up again moments later. A group of bathers purposefully trod water waiting to be rushed up the beach and deposited high and dry. It looked like fun but I wasn’t about to try it in OB. What’s more there was an overturned boat right in the waves, still with a line to shore, and the working that it received when the surge came on brought an unpleasant looseness to my stomach.

The entrance to the port was narrow and tricky with large peaks forming and receding and a high cliff rising forbiddingly from where the waters champed at heaps of shattered rocks. I rowed in none too neatly on a bucking OB and drifted down a calm lane between fishing and pleasure boats until I came to a space just wide enough for our slim hull.

I’d just got her nose into the space and was stowing the oars when a man on a bicycle arrived, steaming, like a puffing billy, under a red cap. His body language, in large clear letters, proclaimed JOB’S WORTH. And I suppose mine must have said, FREELOADING WIERDO AND FORIEGNER TO BOOT, for without a pause and with urgent arm waving he told me in French, German and English that there was no room at the inn.

I thought of many a pithy reply in Catalan as well as sound arguments warranting a waiving of the rules but was too tired to lock horns with a cap-wearing, whistle-blowing simpleton. I rowed slowly out to sea again and reviewed the situation. Cala Bona, the nearest shelter to the north and my intended overnight stop, was 5 miles away bearing 60º, a mere hour on foot, 20 minutes on the job’s worth’s bicycle and much less by car. The wind blew lightly from the northeast.

To sail to windward OB needs a bit of grunt in the sails, in light winds she makes more leeway. The GPS gives me ETAs based on direction and speed. Under sail my destination lay 8 hours hence. Under oars, against the wind and swell I could average 1.5 knots putting Cala Bona, three and a half hours away. It was 7 pm, I’d been on the water for 13 hours, the sun would set in two hours, Cala Bona was unreachable.

To the south lay the town of Lloret de Mar, one of the beer-swilling capitals of Costa Brava tourism and beyond that the port of Blanes. But these last few miles had been hard earned, could I really cash them in when I couldn’t be sure of what I’d find to the south anyway? No, it looked like I was spending the night in Canyelles.

There were a few inflatable launches moored to buoys but they rose and fell and swung wildly on the surges. I ruled out anchoring or tying up to a buoy and looked at the beach, and then longingly to a bar beyond. The promise of a cold beer excited me to action. The north end of the beach was the most sheltered and as I rowed towards it more sand revealed its self. There was a quiet corner opening up before me and I studied it over my shoulder. There were rocks but the sea was much calmer, the beach was steep but if I could time my entry with a surge I might save myself some strife.

I took one last turn to check for rocks then rowed in, jumping out and hauling as the bow touched the sand. OB was very heavy with seven day’s gear aboard and the sand was very soft. People often offer help when they see me heaving at the water’s edge and now I looked at a group of people near by half expecting to hear a welcome, ‘need a hand mate?’ But a whiff of marijuana drifted over and they observed my struggles with a languid eye.

Eventually on land I went for that luxury of luxuries, that heavenly elixir of the tired and thirsty, that cool refreshing amber nectar, a cold beer—and was charged a fortune for it.

The night on shore was hot and sticky and the mosquitoes drank heartily from my wrists and ankles. Awake before dawn I immediately saw that Dominique had jumped ship, leaving a slimy au revoir on the side decks. The few remaining ants, however, had invited a whole colony aboard. A river of insects gushed up through the centreboard trunk and wound its way to the fore locker, which again I’d forgotten to close.

With a crew of thousands I pushed out to sea for a quick sail, in the off shore breeze that comes with first light, round to Cala Bona for breakfast.

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