Thursday 31 December 2009

The last catch of the year

The trawler fleet return to Vilanova harbour in the watery afternoon light.

The more elderly wooden boats have a distinctive sheer and pleasing proportions.

The more modern boats have the aggressive features of natural predators.

Not all returning boats trail a cloud of seagulls. Please tell me that this is because they have already sorted and stowed the catch and not that the nets came up empty.

Friday 25 December 2009

The Mediterranean this morning

Looking over the water in the dawn light, breathing the sea’s salt breath. 

Sunday 20 December 2009

Rowing to the brothel

Despite inauspicious beginnings with the local rowing team I’ve continued, training when ever time is available. I even participated in a couple of races over the summer and just about avoided spewing my guts into the bilges.

Interest in training has flagged but there are a few of us that are still sufficiently keen to go out in the evenings. Sometimes there are only four or five of us, sometimes the full eight plus cox. But if the weather permits we always row out of the harbour and along the coast in the dark.

Our destination tonight, announced by Pegleg the cox, is the local brothel.

In Spain houses of ill repute are not discreet affairs. They scream their presence in flashing neon. They make a fine landmark at night and a useful navigational aid. A captain of the Spanish merchant navy once explained to me that cargo ships on coastal passages would measure their progress by these colourful lights. In one Spanish port the pilot would give transits that included the brothel.

Outside the harbour the sea is slick and inky. The boat twists on the remains of a particularly vehement northeasterly swell. It’s too dark to make out the oar blade and you can only tell if it’s angled correctly by how the pull stroke feels. There’s a risk of ‘slicing the ham’— tallar el pernil . This is when, through lack of awareness and control, the oar blade becomes angled forward, a perilous situation that often leads to ‘catching a crab’. Interestingly the Catalans chose to highlight the moment that the blade becomes horizontal with a colourful phrase, rather than the moment that the badly angled oar dives as we do in English with ‘catching a crab’. The Catalan slicing the ham leads to the English catching a crab.

Over my shoulder I can see the brothel lightshow two miles up the coast. Of course having such a landmark to aim for promotes bawdy talk. Once when still a beginner, resting on the oars amid cackling laugher at bow oar’s crude joke, Carpet Slipper—still considering me a complete wuss—leant over and warned, ‘Things are said in this boat that would never be said on land.’

Away from the shore the stars are brighter and the cold is biting but Pegleg drives us hard with series of 10, 15, 20 long, strong strokes. Our only navigation light is Pegleg’s head torch. We all move as one, powering the boat through the oily waters. We reach our destination and turn. The distant pulsing pink nubile silhouettes and the green lights atop the bawdy house ladder up and down like, ahem, well, like a whore’s drawers.

By contrast, over to port, a more traditional navigational aid hangs huge in the night sky. Orion. There’s a sharp edged beauty out here, the scattered constellations above and more immediately the boat, the pale bow wave, the heaving rowers. A shooting star arcs over Rigel. It would be enough to bring a tear to my eye if I weren’t concentrating so hard on not ‘slicing the ham.

Tuesday 15 December 2009

Slowly rotting

I can’t go to a neighbouring beach without stopping to look at a particular boat and firing up a little pipe dream. Rationally I’d be better off avoiding the beach altogether but I’ve found myself making excuses to wander in that direction whenever I’m in the area with a few minutes to spare.

The boat was apparently built on the Costa Brava assuring her pedigree as a traditional Catalan llaüt or llagut or, being fairly small, gussi. Carvel built of thick pine, distinctively vertical at stern and stem and bathtub beamy amidships she looks to be on the precarious cusp between restoration and rebuild. The name painted on the side is Rocamar (literally ‘rock-sea’) a name often given to houses built on cliffs overlooking the sea.

But I’m in no position to entertain plans for restoration. Onawind Blue is the largest, most complex boat that I can afford to maintain and own. However, I can’t help feeling a genuine desire to take some positive step to save a piece of Catalonia’s maritime heritage.

I couldn’t resist leaving my name and number at the sailing club though, in case the owner comes by. Just to find out more about the boat’s history and to know if he has any plans for Rocamar.

Wednesday 9 December 2009

Empty world

Late autumn in Catalonia can bring some beautiful days. After a week of cold, roof-tile-flinging winds and crashing swells with fierce undertows that move more sand in an afternoon than a regiment of bulldozers could in a week, a Mediterranean jewel of a day is conjured from the chaos. And it begs to be lived to the full.

Dutiful as always in the face of fine conditions I pack the boat and go for lunch on a little beach that, during the summer months, is inaccessible due to buoys and bathers and rules and regulations. I see no other sailing boats on the three-mile reach and there are no people on the beach. Feeling luckier than a lottery winner I give a OB a salt water clean out and cook a simple lunch. I wonder why people round here use the coast seasonally, why they pack their beach towels and boats away in September. But I don’t wonder for too long, I don’t really care. Today I’m just glad they do.

Sunday 29 November 2009

La Gazelle des Sables

This remarkable craft is a scaled down tuna fishing boat from Les Sables d’Olonne on the Breton coast. The 55kg hull is 2.70 metres (8’10”) long and 1.22 wide, it is double skinned, unsinkable and, carrying 65 litres of water ballast, self-righting. The hull is made from polyester and with its gaff mainsail, topsail, flying jib and jib set on aluminium spars it can carry from 3.9 m2 to 11.8m2 of sailcloth.

The salty looking boat is reportedly fast, stable and safe. It was one of the only interesting craft at The Barcelona Boat show and a long chat with the sales woman quite tickled my appetite to try one—all those sails and bits of string.

More photos and video too at La Gazelle des Sables.

Tuesday 24 November 2009

The stupidest thing (I’ve done this year)

The stupidest things we do are the ones that we knew were flawed from the start, that go against our personal grain or that undermine our better judgement. It’s not that you should have known better, it’s that you DID know better, but you went ahead and did it all the same.

I have a 2hp Yamaha outboard on loan from a friend, for use on this old Zodiac of mine.

(I think it’s early 70’s but if anyone can give a more exact date I’d be grateful.) The outboard pushes the inflatable and one person at 4.5 knots, so it’s suitable for a pootle but not much else, though I have done a 10 mile round trip. So, out pootling one afternoon I thought how nice it might be to pootle under power in OB. And besides, people are always telling me that I should get an engine, that rowing is for masochists and that, to put it kindly, I’m a stubborn, raving Luddite. I imagined facing forwards while OB merrily putt-putted along. (Though the 2hp doesn’t actually putt-putt but wails and hammers. In fact it is far more efficient at turning petrol into brute noise than into forward motion.)

Galvanised, I broke out the workshop and began bashing together a gunwale mount for OB. I thought about sanding and painting the mounting but decided to leave it rough, which was just as well as I ended up using it as kindling for the wood-burning stove.

On a grey early morning I crept out of bed to try OB under power. I met my 8 year old son on the stairs and he sleepily signed up for some pre-breakfast adventure.

We launched the boat into calm water and hopped aboard. I pulled the starter cord and all conversation was drowned. OB accelerated through the calm water. We chortled along at low revs smiling broadly. Then I opened the throttle. And suddenly everything happened very quickly. OB shot forward. The outboard seemed to rise up. The mounting broke apart. I held the engine’s tiller tight to stop the motor falling but suddenly released my grip when I felt a sharp pain in my forearm.

The engine spluttered and sank. I watched it with disbelief. The motor had taken half the mounting to the bottom, 5 metres below. OB trickled forward. Keeping my eye on the place where the outboard fell I rowed the boat round, speechless with astonishment. My son appeared equally stunned by our sudden loss but as I threw out the anchor he mentioned that there seemed to be a lot of blood escaping from my arm. I looked down. Something sharp had gouged the underside of my forearm. One of the things about being with children in these situations is that you absolutely don’t want to freak them out. You take everything nice and calmly as if there was nothing urgent, stressful or even unusual going on.

‘I’m just going down to get the outboard.’
‘But you’re bleeding.’
‘It’s nothing. Look I just wipe it off with this tee shirt and…’
‘You start bleeding again.’
‘Well I’ll only be gone a moment.’
‘But won’t sharks smell your blood.’
‘There aren’t any sharks and even if there were, well it’s Sunday morning, sharks would still be in bed after a wild Saturday night.’

I grabbed a length of line and dived in. I got down there, passed one end of the line round the outboard and, with both ends of the line in my hand, swam back up and pulled myself aboard. Then I hauled the engine up from the bottom. To add to my growing chagrin a slick of 2-stroke mixture flexed on the surface.

I hauled in the anchor and rowed back to the beach. What a fine rowing boat is my Onawind Blue, I thought, she is not a motorboat, so why would you ever interrupt her clean lines with a dirty, noisy, smelly outboard? She hasn’t even got a transom that can take one. But where I had really failed was in building the engine mount. I’d underestimated the amount of force the outboard would exert and in which direction. Two large screws pulled right out, though admittedly they were screwed into end grain. (It was one of the screws that gouged my arm.)

Before I burnt the mount I rebuilt it more robustly and tried again, confirming conclusively that OB is not suited to carrying an engine. (But I knew this already!) The hull is easily moved and at low revs she hits a good speed. Any more power though and she starts to rock, trying hard to dunk and extinguish the engine. You have to work quite hard physically to compensate the rocking while stretching across to steer the motor, and by the time you hit four knots you’re wondering if you’re totally in control. I didn’t dare try turning on anything but minimum revs. Once back at the beach the added weigh of the engine is a great hindrance.

To conclude: you’re much better off rowing. (But I knew this already!)

If anybody wants to know how to re-start an outboard that has been submerged in saltwater let me know and I’ll pass on some won knowledge.

Friday 20 November 2009

Slow sailing

Watching the sea to windward, milking every gust, keeping the boat exactly trim and when boat speed falls below 3 knots breaking out the oars and rowing for billy-ho. That’s how I sailed this summer. Driven by an urgent unwillingness to sail at night. Spurred to action by its inherent horrors I raced across the sea. And in the moments when I could relax I studied the GPS, course made good, miles covered, average speed, ETA…I was a regatta sailor racing against time.

Back on my home beach I can once again take up what my friend Joan Sol terms ‘Slow Sailing’. Joan is the author of the top Catalan sailing blog El Mar es el Camí. It’s the blog of reference on these shores and Joan is one of those lynch pin figures who manage to organise events and bring like-minded folk together. Recently he coaxed a good number of Spanish bloggers from behind their screens to a big meet up and presentation at the Barcelona boat show. A man of great sensibility in all things maritime he has an enviable collection of maritime literature and is the owner of the lateen rigged El Corb Mari, in which I had the pleasure of sailing this summer. (And sailing quite fast at that.) As an antidote to go-faster times Joan wrote a manifesto, which, at Joan’s request, I am happy to translate and pass on.

The Slow Sailing Manifesto

1.- Whatever your craft, whether a rowing boat, or a luxury yacht, it’s your realationship with your boat and the sea that matters. Regardless of length, price and equipment, your craft isn’t just another of your many possesions but rather an agreeable travelling companion with whom you can learn about the sea and, more importantly, about yourself.

2.- Spend time aboard your craft even if it’s just tied up in the harbour. Make the boat part of your living space. Do little jobs aboard, this will hieghten your sense of ownership and will strengthen the ties between you and your craft.

3.- Leave your hurries and worries on the quay when you go sailing. Go without a set time to return, as if you were leaving for a long journey. Forget your watch and let the sun guide you. If you take speed and time out of the equation you’re left only with space: the sea.

4.- Sail without a strict course or destination. Let the wind and sea take you where they will. Don’t think about miles covered or those still to go. Don’t go anywhere, just sail and enjoy the moment.

5.- Disconnect the electronics and sail like they used to. Learn not to depend on your instruments. When was the last time you took a bearing? Or a sun sight? Find your position and mark it on the chart. Forget the windspeed indicator, feel the wind on your face. Learn the art of sailing, become a real sailor.

6.- Disconect the mobile and turn off the music. Cut your ties with the land. Listen to the murrmuring sea, the bow wave, the flap of the sail, the breathing wind.

7.- Don’t hog the helm. Let somebody else take it. How long has it been since you stretched out on deck or sat at the bow? If you’re sailing alone, tie off the tiller, balance the sails and let yourself go. Trust in your crew and in your boat.

8.- Write a log book. Detail your sailing trips and note down your feelings. Then go back over your notes and re-live the experience. Share your experiences with others in what ever way suits you best.

9.- Race, if that’s what you like but don’t go for the prize. Go to learn about the sea, your boat and yourself. There’s no more stimulating prize than this.

10.- Don’t desert your boat, she’d never desert you. (This is a play on a famous Spanish campaign to stem the amount of pets that are abandoned by the roadsides in Spain, particularly during the summer holidays.)

11.- Contemplate the sea for a while each day, let it’s energy flow into you and take it where ever you go.

Slow sailing in Onawind Blue. Cooking lunch while ghosting along at one knot on a November afternoon.

And what better when the sun’s gone down and the woodburner’s glowing than some armchair slow sailing with Keep Turning Left and master of the go slow crowd Dylan Winter. I’ve followed Dylan up to Essex and now find myself wishing he’d go a little faster so that I don’t have to wait so long between episodes.

Wednesday 11 November 2009

Monday 9 November 2009

Sunday 8 November 2009

Sailing northwest

Friday 6 November 2009

Thursday 5 November 2009

Saturday 31 October 2009

The last three stages

Ver The final three legs en un mapa más grande

Here's a map showing the final legs of my summer trip. Silly as it is to go cruising with a schedule, I had. And the punishment was windless calm. Ghastly calm.

Wednesday 21 October 2009

Absolutely Knackered

Offshore in engineless boats like Onawind Blue you kind of depend on the wind. You whistle for it, you pray for it and when you’ve got it you pray for it to hold. When if fails your heart sinks. It might seem futile to take up the oars when you’re still forty miles from your destination. But waiting could mean just sitting, drifting with the current for a day or two. So you row. And, fun as rowing is, you do eventually get tired. If you go beyond tired you get knackered. When you’re knackered and the wind still hasn’t appeared you somehow have to continue rowing. Sometime later you find that you’re absolutely knackered.

Sunday 18 October 2009

The Columbrete Islands

Ver mapa más grande

This island group is so small and insignificant that it barely shows on Google Earth. Columbrete Grande is the only lump of rock in this small volcanic archipelago that makes a suitable stopover. Formed by a crater, at one time the island would have been round, however, yearly onslaught from northeasterly storms have eroded the rim and flooded the crater leaving a convenient horseshoe shape.

The Greeks and Romans used the anchorage but the Columbretes Islands themselves were snake infested–a feature reflected in the names Colubraria or Ophiusa (meaning snake in Latin) that appear on Roman charts. Up until the 19th century Barbary Corsairs, smugglers and fishermen had the run of the place. In 1856 intentional fires razed the scrub in a deliberate attempt to finish off the snakes and a lighthouse was built. Two families of keepers were permanently installed. The hard, difficult lives of the people who lived on the island over the hundred odd years in which the lighthouse was manned are remembered in a small museum.

The lighthouse became automatic in 1975 and the islands were put to use by the Spanish navy as a shooting range, which greatly hastened erosion. In 1988 the islands were declared a natural park and a marine reserve. Now, during the summer months, a few biologists husband the delicate ecosystem, classify the fauna and receive visiting yachts.

There are a limited number of mooring buoys spread around the anchorage and yachts approaching the islands and wanting to make use of a buoy have to call up the biologists on channel 9 and request a mooring. I duly complied and called the islands on the VHF just as the sun was setting. I was still ten miles away and the wind that had sprung up mid afternoon was beginning to fade. Soon it would be time to row again and I knew that the islands could still be up to 5 hours away. However I wanted to get the call in early as I had a special request to make. There’s no mobile phone cover on the island, which is a recommendation, but I needed to reassure my family that I had arrived. So, identifying myself as ‘small sailing boat Onawind Blue’, I radioed the island and asked if they could put in a satellite call to my home and make reassuring noises. A biologist dryly acquiesced but went on to tell me that there were no buoys available and that I would have to tie up to another boat.

The wind failed as darkness fell. And after a long three-hour row the waxing moon, orange as a piece of tangerine, set behind the southern tip of the island. There were no lights and the land was only slightly darker than the dark sky. Were it not for the lighthouse beam swinging round with regularity, its reflection reaching across the oily black water, I would have lost the island into the night. 

From experience I know that it’s no fun rafting up against a larger boat, even when there are plenty of helpful crew and fenders. As I rowed into the bay at 1 am and toured the dark sleeping hulls one after the other it seemed that none were suitable. Eventually though I came across a yacht with an oversized RIB bobbing quietly behind. I tied OB’s starboard bow to the RIB’s port quarter and protected her port side with fenders. At 2 am I climbed into my bivi bag, 22 hours after leaving Ibiza. The night was far from quiet, noisy groups of seabirds were still gossiping on the rocks and one particular bird seemed to enquire, in a cockney accent, ‘Awright? Awright?’

‘Yeah, I’m awright.’ I said and fell asleep.

Wednesday 14 October 2009

The ways of the wind

On that first crossing to Ibiza I was lucky with the wind. 19 hours of favourable, constant force 3 to 4 is a sailor’s dream that doesn’t often come true in the Mediterranean. One of the points that comes over most forcefully when talking to other local sailors is that you can’t get by without an engine. And, judging by most sailing boats I see, the engine is the principle workhorse and the sails the auxiliary power. One sailboat owner I know will always recommend a motor boat if asked what sort of craft he considers most apt for the Med.

I’d been watching the weather on the run up to my trip and I knew that decent southerlies were on the way. Although I had a rather limited in time in which to complete the whole trip I stalled for two days to make sure my departure coincided with the shift from easterlies to southerlies. And I was lucky. The forecast was correct and the breeze held. Day after day.

I was on Ibiza making a new rudder and fighting some demons. And the wind, frustratingly, continued to blow. Couldn’t I just save a bit for later, in a little breeze bank, and cash it in when I needed it? It seemed such a waste, blowing so beautifully and me on land. And I knew it would start to fail before I made the next big crossing.

However, for the trip up to the north of Ibiza the wind held. 10 knots, over the starboard quarter, it was perfect. I stood towards the stern, steering with the tiller lines and adjusting our course slightly on the waves to favour surfing. We sailed at 6 to 8 knots hitting 10 and 11 on the waves. It was more like windsurfing than normal sailing and as sweet as it gets.

Ver First leg of the return en un mapa más grande

Of course, the next day when I left on the 67-mile passage to the Columbrete Islands the wind played truant and I was forced to rely on OB’s engine to power the oars.

Ver Ibiza to els Columbrets en un mapa más grande

Monday 12 October 2009

OB's route

Three months have gone by since OB’s summer trip. Long enough to get over the feeling that sea voyages in small, open boats are the height of foolhardiness. I’m now mulling over possibilities for next year, following imaginary lines on charts, weighing pros and cons and making lists of jobs to be done on the boat. But before I get ahead of myself I’ll be posting (now that I’m back online after a record 5 months waiting for a connection) material about the not so recent voyage. To start with here are some maps showing OB’s route.

Ver OB's trip, June 2009 en un mapa más grande

This first passage, from the mainland to Ibiza, was the most testing as it entailed several long hours of night sailing in which we crossed a busy shipping lane and had to deal with a rudder failure.

The second was a short cruise to the neighbouring island of Formentera to test the new rudder.

Ver Short Formentera Cruise en un mapa más grande

Saturday 12 September 2009

El Corb Marí

El Corb in the foreground with Kuyunut behind

I was invited to the XXIII festival of lateen sail at Cadaqués to sail as crew on el Corb Marí, (the cormorant) by my friend Joan Sol who writes the fabulous Catalan blog, El Mar es el Camí (Joan has just posted an account of OB’s recent adventures).

El Corb’, as friends call the boat, is a lateen rigged rocket. Designed and built for racing in Mallorca in 1954, el Corb is 5 metres long weighs 800kg and flies 27.65 m2. A beautiful, fine-lined boat with a wine glass transom in lieu of the more typical sternpost, el Corb is light and agile for a traditional lateen boat of this size. What is more the boat had just undergone an extensive refit at the hands of Catalan master boat-builder and restorer Quico Despuig. El Corb went to the yard for a simple paint job but once stripped other problems revealed them selves. The boat needed to be re-caulked and the transom was in a sorry state. Owner Joan decided that the work should continue regardless and asked Quico to do whatever was necessary.

For Joan there was never any real choice in the matter, as he says on his blog, ‘I would hate myself if I let a boat like this fall into disrepair.’ The boat was re-caulked and a new transom fitted and finished bright. The work was beautifully executed and well worth it for Juan now has an exemplary craft.

So, when the festival organisers announced that a race would follow the copious breakfast of grilled sardines, pa amb tomaquet and wine I was eager to see what el Corb could do. The boat is fairly tender with its high aspect rig and long keel and we rounded up two more crew before the race. The fleet of lateen rigged craft were moored with an anchor off the stern and a line ashore, they tugged eagerly in the northerly Tramuntana that blew gustily near the beach.

During the distribution of picnics, water and wine, the shrill blast of a whistle called us to our duty and we hastened to the boats for an exciting ‘Le Mans’ style start to the race. This quickly led to carnage as turning boats set massive yards and sails. Joan managed to keep us to windward of the fray and el Corb accelerated off the mark as the mainsail was sheeted home. To leeward the dorna Tamariua emerged from the melee going like a train followed by a pack of others. For the moment the dorna had the heels of us but that was just as well as we weren’t too sure of the course. It later transpired that Suso on the dorna wasn’t too sure of the course either, in fact he wasn’t even sure if we were racing or not. But for all that he was driving his boat hard.

Joan helmed us ably as we wove through the moored craft in Cadaqués bay and it became apparent that the main job of the crew was to trim the boat. El Corb leant to the gusts and we shifted our weight from the centre of the boat to the rail. The boat was fast. If we could keep the hull flat on the water when the gusts came on el Corb flew, eliciting whoops and praise. My job was to adjust the ‘burdes’ (a mainstay that is always set to windward) when we changed tack.

El Corb and Cadaqués
Round the first mark and the dorna was still galloping ahead. But on the close reach up to a rocky isle we began to gain. Here the dorna miscalculated, tacking too early and soon having to tack again. El Corb, the crew working in well oiled unison, tacked smoothly and charged into the lead.

I’m no racer and I don’t consider myself competitive but my blood was up and my face set with granite resolve. Of course we sailed with a huge advantage being the only boat actually designed for regattas but that didn’t seem to lessen the sense of achievement and we rewarded ourselves with a pleasant half hour of back-patting and beer drinking.

The winning crew. Carles, Ben, Joan, Montse.

Sailing a recently restored Mediterranean jewel and the sight of all the beautiful lateen sails against the white tumbling town and the sun baked hills behind made me consider myself extremely fortunate to be have been involved.

All photos from el Mar és el Camí.

Friday 28 August 2009

Rowing cross-oared again

I’m afraid that the craft that I previously referred to as a ‘polbiero’ is actually a ‘dorna’. I’d had some inkling of this but was finally able to confirm my suspicion when I met a Galician ‘dorna’ owner at the XXIII festival of lateen sail in Cadaqués. (More on this festival in another post.) Suso, author of the blog ‘Lajareu por Barlovento’ , was participating with his dorna, Tamariua, which he kindly let me sail and row.

The Dorna requires a crew of two to tack the dipping lug sail. The helm, having put the tiller over unhooks the sheet, leaves their position and, grasping the clew of the sail, dashes nimbly round the mast. While the crew first lowers the sail a few feet to enable the yard to pass freely round the front of the mast, then raises it again tying off the halyard to windward where it acts as a stay. The helm then re-attaches the sheet with a quick turn round a small belaying pin. It is rather complicated to perform on the confined decks of the dorna but with practice and coordination I imagine it could be quite a graceful step-by-step dance.

My efforts weren’t particularly graceful but I hoped to do better at the oars. The two-piece sweeps are as long as the dorna. Being so large they are also heavy but with so much of the oar inboard of the pins they are balanced. I found it hard to keep they blades out of the water on the recovery but the stroke was powerful and satisfying.

For the solo sailor the dorna would be a challenge. Not only due to the difficulty of single-handedly tacking and gybing but also because the crossed oar rowing, while fine for fishing, does not really make suitable auxiliary power. I think it would be difficult to row this boat alone for hours at a stretch maintaining a 3-knot average speed. However, when rowed by two people, as it more commonly was, the boat moves along easily and briskly. Stroke oar sits in the on the stern thwart and bow oar on the central one. Due to the length of the oars the starboard rower sits on the port side of the boat and vice versa.

As before I was struck by the contrasts of this boat. The rustic simplicity of the build and rig compared with the complexity of the hull form. The area of Galicia in northwest Spain has Celtic roots and the dorna hull form derived, according to Suso, from Viking craft. The dorna proved to be a big head-turner on the Catalan coast upstaging many of the smaller lateen rigged craft.

Thursday 6 August 2009

Christian Auge and Mare C

Back in May I saw a stumpy wing mast among the typical aluminium forest of spars. It belonged to a small catamaran with folding wings. One glance was enough to see that it was a serious sea-going boat. The man on board looked like he’d been at sea for some time so I invited him home for dinner.
Christian Auge has been sailing since he was twenty-two. Searching for his first sailing boat he drove across Asia and then flew to the Marquesas where he fell in with the unlikely crew of a pilot, a call girl and a guru aboard their trimaran. When relations among the trio broke up they gave Christian the boat. He sailed 400 nm to the Tuamoas where he worked trading between the islands. He met Bernard Moitessier and became friends, giving Bernard his first taste of multihull sailing. Of Moitessier Christian told me that you couldn’t hope for a better crew, that, for all his experience, he would never presume to interfere with how you sailed your boat, he was always open, humble and willing.

Christian worked his way around the world on boats and began his own career designing and building with the Mike Birch team in New Bedford for the 1976 OSTAR. In 40 years on the sea he has sailed some 250,000 miles and is now designing a 28-foot proa with a rotating rig in which he hopes to take part in the next Jester Challenge.

Deciding that he was spending too much time in front of the computer he prepared an early summer cruise on the ply and epoxy catamaran Mare C. A friend had designed and built the boat for speed but Christian cut two metres off the mast to achieve a more cruiser friendly sail area. He set off in the 5.5 metre catamaran with 11square metres of mainsail and six of jib. The whacking great mast added another 2.5 square metres and gave the boat a cruising speed of up to 15 knots. He sailed from Sète in France and planned to continue non-stop down the Mediterranean to Algiers. However, he met calms and contrary head winds. Having no auxiliary power he could do nothing but wait for the weather to become more favourable. He stopped at Ibiza and then, with insufficient time to make the African continent, decided to head back to France.

On the way back the weather again failed him and after four days at sea with only two hours sleep and with his knee playing up he decided to stop at Torredembarra to find some medication.

I was amazed by Christian’s ability at 62 to endure the discomforts of long hours on a small boat. He had no mattress or boat tent and generally just slept on the deck in his wet weather gear. He lived on a Spartan diet of dried fruit and nuts, tinned sardines and roll ups.

We looked over Onawind Blue together, it was interesting to compare the two boats, OB and Mare C were completely different concepts, however OB was about to embark on a similar cruise. Conceivably Mare C could have made the 140 mile passage from Ibiza in 14 to 15 hours at an average of 10 knots. OB could have done the same in 48 hours at her stately average of 3 knots. In the event, however, OB also took four days from Ibiza to Torredembarra including a rest day.

Christian liked OB and was impressed by the build quality (though of course I distracted him when his eyes wandered to the dodgy bits) and reckoned that she would be perfect for such a cruise. This thumbs up from an experienced sailor boosted my confidence enormously —I’d been having grave doubts. Meeting Christian was a turning point. He made it sound as if anyone could sail offshore in a small engineless boat incurring less risk that they would by driving up the motorway. The OB cruise was on again.

A few days later the wind came fair and he set off to sail non-stop to France. I watched him through binos from the beach. Mare C was doing about six knots on a light southerly, Christian was leaning on a wing rolling a cigarette. Suddenly I couldn’t wait to get going.

Monday 3 August 2009

Monday 6 July 2009

The start

Onawind Blue launches from Granadella beach and sails round the high, rocky coast of Cape Nao looking for somewhere to anchor and prepare for an early departure.

There's a lot of sea out there.

Sunday 5 July 2009

The story in photos

Leaving home.
Sausage and cheese. Anchored off the north of Cabo de la Nao a few hours before leaving the Spanish mainland.
Somewhere in the middle of a big blueness.

The jury rudder.
OB crests waves with habitual grace and style.
Watching paint dry.
Evening at s'Espalmador, between Ibiza and Formentera.
Landsick and running errands in Ibiza town.
On board beautiful 1929 British lifeboat (more on this boat another time) with French owner and restorer Baloo, (we 'ave ze worl's best rhum)
OB looks very small in the Columbretes.
From the sea...
to the pan. A pollock (trachurus trachuruswith garlic and almonds hits the spot .
Getting to sea in the middle of the night.
Dawn. There's no wind but the coffee's ready.
The wear and tear of many miles under oars.