Sailing to Gibraltar?

Gibraltar from La Linea anchorage

An 8am start on yet another misty day. Apart from checking the almanac for high tide (in order to catch a complimentary tidal stream), there was not much preparation required (from a navigational standpoint ), to reach Gibraltar. I aimed for the big rock to the south and tried not to get hit by, or run into (as vessels are mostly anchored), any shipping.

Taking the compulsory snapshot of ‘the captain’ with Gibraltar in the background, I then headed for the anchorage at La Linea, bypassing Gibraltar to forgo clearing customs.

I don’t like the smell here… What with the Spanish refinery to the west, the airport jet-fuel vapors to the east and an armada of tankers surrounding Gibraltar, it’s no wonder the air and water is thick with the scent of odoriferous chemicals.

The view of “the rock”, is, by contrast, superb.

Disenchanted with Southern Spain

Sailing near Denia

Sailing near Denia

I spent the next two weeks sailing down the Costa del Sol and Costa Blanca stopping at Denia, Altea, Alicante, Torrevieja, Cartagena, Almeria, Almerimar, and Benalmadena.

With a steady land breeze, the sailing was exceptional. Eileen of Avoca sped effortlessly along the coast, often passing within a cable of bizarrely shaped headlands with dramatic cliffs and abundant bird life.

Dolphins visited frequently, swimming beside us with ethereal splendor for hours on end. At night, their intricate performance (illuminated by the agitated bioluminescent plankton), prompted rapturous applause.



The cities I’ve visited are the antithesis of this natural splendor. They appear excessively contrived and soulless. The further I travel south, the more feigned it all becomes.

With the exception of a handful of historic buildings, period architecture is abandoned to make way for the construction of theme park styled apartments and brand name shopping centers. What has happened to the real Spain? Tourist traps and real estate agents can’t be all that’s left!

Everything is for rent or for sale. Did the recent boom come at such a cultural cost?
I put these questions to the older sailors berthed for winter in Cartagena. They assure me that the real Spain still lives but it is not to be found further south among the plastic covered landscapes and marina developments of Andalucia.



I am certainly not impressed. The scarcity of berths for visiting yachts at intended destinations (Almerimar excepted) made landfall a chore, and the frequent questioning or searches by port officials did little to make me feel welcome.
Perhaps misinformation from my outdated Mediterranean almanac was to blame, or I’ve just been in the wrong frame of mind.

I decide to break my journey and leave Eileen while I return to Belgium for a white Christmas. I’ll take up where I left off in the new year.

Seasons Greetings everyone!

Sailing to Mahon Menorca

With the sea calm once more, Gianluca and I were captivated by the night approach to Mahon Menorca. It had been a magical crossing. We’d caught three Dorado (though one managed to get away while lifting it out of the water), had a prolonged visit by a tired little avian friend, and even spotted whales (yes this time I’m not joking. There really are whales in the Mediterranean).

Despite the mention of a tsunami affecting the Balearic Islands in 2003 (originating from the Zemmouri earthquake in Algiers), my Mediterranean almanac and electronic charts showed a safe, well lit, approach to Mahon.



Tying to the public quay opposite Isla Pinto we were surprised to find the port relatively empty. Where were all the yachtsmen? We invited a curious passerby aboard and exchanged a portion of our latest catch for some local news and gossip. Evidently the sailing season ended in September. Looks like the Spanish leisure boaters take their toys out only two months of the year (just like the Italians), and the last of the cruising set (heading for Gibraltar and beyond), passed by at least a month ahead of us.

I’m late! I’m late… and before long the fine weather will surely deteriorate!

After a whirlwind tour of Mahon, resupplied and well rested, the not so dynamic duo said farewell to the hoards of locals gathered to witness our departure…. would you believe a hoard of two elderly couples and one child in a pram? How about a stray dog and two seagulls? OK, we slipped away before anyone would notice and set our sights on reaching Palma de Mallorca (120NM away) by the 1st of November.

Tuna steaks

Tuna steaks

Sailing directions in brief:

Take a heading of 240º from the southern tip of Menorca, then turn right before you hit Isla de Cabrera. Easy. Moreover, catch sizable tuna à volonté while on route, slice into steaks and eat to your hearts content.

Gianluca on the night shift

A tiny avian visitor

A tiny avian visitor

By dawn, I’d managed to pass the southern tip of Sardinia and after setting a course of 228º taking us between Isola del Toro and Isola Sant Antioco, I handed over the GPS to my trusty crew and went below for some sleep.

I usually sleep exceptionally well in my Yarmouth23. Whether it be in the forward v-berth or with my feet in the trotter box of the settee, but not this time!

A disagreeable pounding on the hull accompanied with the pounding of my head against the bulkhead, tore me from my slumber.

What was going on? Why was Gianluca setting such a punishing pace against the unfavourable winds and increasing swell?

Overruling his landlubber logic of “we’ll get through it faster this way”, I set the throttle to a more comfortable speed before returning below to grumble and make sandwiches.

Despite what my friends and family say, I find that my irritable nature is often tempered by a full stomach… 😉

Sailing from Palermo to Gagliari

Motor Sailing

Motor Sailing

I’ve set (motor)sail for Cagliari and something is wrong with Eileen of Avoca. There are odd vibrations coming from the engine but I am at a loss as to the cause. After a restless night I notice an appreciable loss in power and am getting more concerned. I’ve checked everything I can on board and all that remains as a possible cause of the vibration and loss of power is an issue with the propeller.

Attaching my waterproof video camera to a boat hook with copious amounts of tape, I lower it over the side and film the rudder and propeller shaft in action. Problem identified!

I’ve become entangled in some debris, if only I had thought to check this sooner. I’m now midway between Sicily and Sardinia and I need to go into the water to clear the prop.

Now if I were McGyver… all I’d need is some chewing gum, a welder, two dolphins… etc… and I’ll build a dry dock in which to do my repairs!

Facing reality (Shucks, I’m not really McGyver), I drop the sails and deploy my parachute sea anchor. No way am I going to get into the water if my boat wont stay put. To be extra sure I put on a harness and tie myself to the boat on a long line before jumping in. Now why do I suddenly feel like shark bait?

Twenty minutes later, operation, clear prop is a success. The vibrations are gone and I’m happily making 4.5kts motor sailing toward Gagliari.

It’s the 9th of October 8am. I’m moored at S. Elmo marina and making arrangements to get back to Belgium.

Leaving Roccella Ionica

The "big captain" & crew

The "big captain" & crew

Matt and I left Roccella Ionica in high spirits, it was great to be moving again and while the sea was still boisterous, the winds were favourable.

Our destination? Siracusa Sicily, just under 110 NM away on a heading of approximately 212°.

Upon departure we said our goodbyes (en passant) to our new French friends on their yacht“Oceane” and braved the remaining swell at the ports entrance. Matt found the surf highly amusing but I must say that running Eileen at full speed against a potentially breaking swell is not my idea of a good time.

After the torrential rains of the last week, the sea was littered with floating debris, including whole trees! However, we were more concerned that this made fishing with our newly acquired (blue) lure, (purchased on the advice of our infinitely more successful {surely only in terms of fishing…} acquaintances), almost impossible. We’d only get the line tangled in bunches of bamboo or other flotsam, never mind that some obstacles were so large they presented a shipping hazard.

Feeding time!

Feeding time!

All we managed to catch the entire trip was what happened to fly on deck. In this case tiny squid which Matt was more than eager to try.

While storm clouds constantly threatened we made the night passage without incident and by morning entered the secure port of Siracuse.

I opted to spend a night at the marina but upon reflection it would have been better to remain at anchor in the bay as many other yachtsmen had chosen to do.

The perfect weather window

Matt's idea of diving

Matt's idea of diving

Sunday the 13th of September.

Checking the weather (my new found obsession) on my laptop from the boat (one hour passwords for Internet Wi-Fi access were available at the marina cafe at no charge), I was pleased to see that several calm days were forecast for the Cyclades. Good weather appears to have been a rarity this summer, so we made haste to depart and make the most of it.

Our destination? Ios via Thira (approximately 100NM distant).

With a few hours to kill (so as to arrive at Thira / Santorini by daybreak), we motored to the small island off Iraklion called Nissos Dhia. It has a splendid little anchorage ideal for swimming, or if you are so inclined, doing back-flips off the boat (BTW that’s Matt in the photo). At dusk we continued north at 4.5kts on a gentle sea.

Busy port of Herakleion

Herakeion Port

Herakeion Port

Two days in Herakleion (11th to the 13th of September)

Arriving in the busy port of Herakleion (Gr: Iraklion or ancient Candia [the real land of Candy]), I made my way past several super cruise ships and a crumbling Venetian fort, to the small boat marina.

Herakleion is busy, bustling, noisy, and architecturally uninspiring but it is civilization. I’d had my fill of quiet and goats on Astipalaia. But with local beer costing 5 Euro a glass, an antipodean beer swilling visitor would find himself penniless in no time…

I found my newly designated teetotaling (unless he buys the beer) crew surveying the many slumbering canines at the airport entrance. His first comment… “What is this… the third world?”

Hmmm wait ’till he sees his accommodation…

Skeleton Island

Skull rock formation

Skull rock formation

6th September. 4am in the morning, it’s warm, the moon is up, the winds are gentle, and the sea is calm. Perfect conditions for motor sailing SW to Astipalaia (also called Stampalia). By daybreak Eileen approached the NE end of the island (Ak Floudha) with the secure anchorage of Vathi as our destination. I’d read in the Greek Waters Pilot that the island had been used by pirates so it seemed very appropriate that the headland boasted a rock formation resembling a human skull (see photo and use plenty of imagination).

The inlet of Vathi which in light of certain aforesaid geological formations must now be dubbed “Skeleton Island” was a pleasant surprise. While there isn’t much there aside from a single taverna and a multitude of goats (“Goat Island” was also briefly considered as potential synonym for Astipalaia), the anchorage provided excellent protection from the Meltemi which had several yachts stranded there for three days!

I made a brief dash for Thera on day two but gave up battling the worsening conditions after a pod of dolphins made it quite clear that it was wisest to head back the other way. On day three I tried again (yes I’m know to be stubborn), but when neighboring boats returned from their attempted departure, and Eileen started dragging an anchor (many thanks to the English crew whose shouts from the Taverna brought that potential disaster to my attention), I resigned myself to remaining another night.

Besides, there’s always plenty of maintenance to do on Eileen of Avoca, mending sails, polishing brass and in this instance unclogging the head!

Idillic little Chalki

Chalki Greece

Chalki Greece

By morning I’d been overtaken by my flotilla partner and Chalki hove into view. What a splendid little stopover. Since the jetty was crowded (well it is August), I rafted up with the boats at anchor. Considerably more chain is required to anchor with enough scope here (15-20m depth), but by 9am the charter boats moved on and I inelegantly made fast to the pontoon.

Dropping the Danforth (with 10m of chain) over the stern I motored to within a meter of the pontoon gently easing out the line. This generally works a treat, except when there isn’t enough line… Must have been the sleep deprivation 😉