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Ocean Gold

Season 2024 - to the Caribbean

Bluewater upgrades, a return through Orca Alley, the Canaries, and across to Grenada via the Cape Verdes.

Ocean upgrades - getting Atlantic ready

With the Atlantic beckoning in November, the pre-season has been one of extensive planning, budgeting, and equipment upgrades.  Arkyla has already proven her bluewater credentials crossing Biscay in 2022.  I had extensively refitted Arkyla pre-Biscay to what I thought was an ocean-ready status; this included safety systems big and small, a sail plan for a short-handed crew, electronic upgrades, and installation of solar and wind power renewables.  Many lessons were learned on Biscay however, and a more critical look at her systems for extended downwind passage-making has inevitably resulted in further significant dents to the wallet!  I have grouped the upgrades into key areas; sailing equipment, communications, power, and life support, security, and comfort:

Sailing & safety related equipment:

Sails.  When replacing Arkyla's sails in 2019, I discussed my need for an easily-handled downwind rig with the legendary Peter, namesake behind Sanders Sails of Lymington.  I was taken by the recent introduction of the Elvstrom 'Bluewater Runner', and Peter cut me a pair of lighter-weight genoas in highly durable Vectran cloth; this twin headsail combination is permanently set on the forestay and used with sails either atop each other when reaching, or poled out either side when running downwind.  This has proven an excellent rig... except in light airs.  With winds below 10 knots, there just isn't enough puff to keep the sails filled with resulting collapsing toward the head and consequent rolling if there is any level of sea state off the stern.  After much soul searching, I have dug deep and splashed out on a Parasailor!  An expensive sail, but significant savings by arranging delivery, through the most helpful UK dealer Stuart of Parasailor.co.uk, to the boat in VAT-free Gibraltar whilst Arkyla is 'Yacht in Transit'.  A significant investment, but one that I foresee will pay dividends well beyond the Atlantic crossing.  Cost:  £7,600 (exc VAT, but includes delivery and 4x sheets/guys).

Crew safety.  Moving between crew area and helm position within the cockpit requires stepping up and around the binnacle and wheel; this used to necessitate unclipping from the forward hard-points and being untethered until clipping back in once at the stern - clearly a significant and unacceptable risk at night and mid-ocean. To address this key safety concern, I have had a bespoke jackstay made up by Jimmy Green Marine; this attaches at the front of the cockpit, but provides a continuous line round and behind the binnacle so there is now no need to unclip to move anywhere within and between cockpit areas. Cost:  £50.

Boat safety.  World Cruising Club (WCC) conditions of entry to ARC/ARC+ rallies have been updated; boats must now be equipped with an additional high-volume electrical (or engine) driven water pump capable of expelling at least 200 litres/minute.  I have purchased a 3500 gallons per hour marine unit from AmazonCost:  £45.

Communications:

Satellite communications.  Another WCC condition of entry is to have an approved long-range communication system onboard; this can be either SSB radio, satellite system, or both.  For many cruising boats, Starlink is the system of choice; I have chosen not to go this route, primarily on the basis of power draw required by the system and the fact that it doesn't offer an emergency solution if abandoning the boat was required. I have instead equi[[ed Arkyla with the Predictwind Iridium Go! Exec package.  Clearly this does not provide the high-speed access to the internet as per Starlink, but it does provide optimised mail, messaging and, most importantly, Predictwind weather and routing services. Cost:  £1640 (hardware).  Predictwind Professional subscription £400 (1 year - shorter terms available).  Predictmail subscription £100 (12 months - shorter terms available)

Power generation:

Hydrogeneration.  Arkyla already has 300 watts of solar and a potential 400+ watts of wind power.  The Atlantic east-to-west passage brings with it certain renewable limitations however.  In more southern latitudes, days are shorter than those experienced in more northern summers so available hours for solar charging are more limited; the potential of shielding by large downwind sails as the sun moves forward of the bow can also limit the potential for charging for typical installations of panels on a boat.  Whilst the tradewinds will hopefully blow consistently at 15-20 knots, the liklihood is that they will be blowing from the stern resulting in lower apparent wind speeds and charging potential. As part of a 'spread betting' approach, I am adding a hydrogeneration layer to Arkyla's renewable energy setup.  I have chosen a Remoran Wave 3GS package; it is good value for money and low impact in terms of weight and space to store when not fitted to the transom.  Potential energy generation is an expected 200 watts day, night, rain or shine. Cost:  £2500 (complete installation package).  

Life support, security & comfort:

Water supply.  For the 5-day Biscay crossing, I provisioned with bottled water to support drinking and cooking for crew; quite apart from taking up so much space, it was expensive and environmentally damaging given the amount of plastic.  A similar water strategy would not work for an Atlantic crossing.  Water-makers are expensive in terms of money, space, and electrical power.  Arkyla is blessed with large water tanks (800 litres spread between 2 tanks); as such I looked for a solution to ensure safe drinking water predominantly from the existing boat tankage.  I decided to install a Riva Explorer Overland twin filter system in the galley.  The recyclable filters are made from biodegradable materials; one filter eliminates legionella and bacteria, the other filters contaminants including heavy metals, microplastics, hormones, drug residues, pesticides, fungicides, carbon, asbestos, and chlorine.  I have designed the system so that it can be easily unplugged from the galley plumbing and used as a pre-filter for water topping up the tanks.  Cost:  £290 (initial installation), £80 (set of 2 filters for each season) .  

Security.  This section I have broken into two core risks; dangers from mother nature, and defence against raiders.  In terms of the natural environment, climate change and its impact on global weather systems has significantly impacted the marine insurance industry; there are few insurers even willing to underwrite boats heading to, and remaining in, the Caribbean.  The premium from my present insurers (Admiral Marine) will nearly double yet, even if the boat is located outside of the official hurricane zone, there is no cover against any named storms.  Topsail have indicated that they will cover the boat, including named storms outside the zone, but the premium does rise an extra 10%.  To sleep easy at night in the tropics with air flowing through the boat, but without the fear of marauders of the night sneaking aboard to relieve the boat of equipment and possessions, I am having bespoke companinway and forehatch security grills fabricated. Cost:  Comprehensive hull insurance £4,600 (cover against named storms), Security grills £300.  

Comfort.  Arkyla is a raised deck saloon; as such there is potential for the double-glazed windows to make the interior of the boat unbearably hot.  She is already equipped with low-power fans in each cabin and can, if desired, use the Eberspacher diesel heater to pump ambient air around the boat (not burning diesel, but needing a high current draw).  To keep the interior cool, I have therefore invested in covers for the deck saloon windows; these are made so that it is possible to see through them to observe the outside world, but they reflect much of the heat from the sun.  Once the sun dios, biting insects becomes an issue in the tropics; I have some great Waterline Design mosquito net products from the Swedish-based BoatSystem Group that includes forehatch windscoop, companionway net, and hatch covers.  Cost:  Window covers £230 , Windscoop £60, Companionway net £65.  

Total Atlantic refit cost:

The costs detailed above are the main items to bring the boat ocean and tropics ready.  I haven't of course included items such as marina fees, provisioning costs, engine spares, or other minor ancillaries that will inevitably occur on any type of long passage.  Not all of these costs are essential, indeed some could be considered an extravagance!  However, given Arkyla was already a well-equipped Swedish-built bluewater cruiser, they give an indication of what may be needed to take a 45' boat trans-Atlantic in both comfort and safety.  Whilst it is undeniably possible to sail oceans on a budget, and many cruisers do so, it is aswell to take the many social media claims out there that ocean sailing can be as cheap as you want to make it.    Total baseline ocean & tropics refit and security cost:  £17,780.  

Sea Trials - a dash to Mallorca (4-8 May)

With the usual pre-season commissioning done (sails bent on, impeller changed, electronics updated, etc), and new systems installed, there is a short weather window for a blast across to Mallorca to check all is well before leaving Valencia behind on Arkyla's push out of the Med.  Whilst a general check that all things are ship-shape is never a bad thing to flush out any post-winter gremlins, I have a specific need to check that the Remoran 'Wave 3' has successfully integrated into the holistic energy system to provide hydro-generation to the existing solar, wind, and engine electrical power inputs (see the Technical section for Arkyla's ocean crossing energy budget).

Destination Sóller - the jewel of Mallorca's north coast:

Valencia to Sóller

Sóller was chosen for several reasons; first and foremost, at 140 nm from Valencia, it is a good 24-hour sail which would hopefully provide all the data needed to assess the Remoran and its ability to provide the extra power needed to balance the boat's energy equation for her upcoming Atlantic crossing.  Also, my press-ganged crew for this jaunt had never visited this lovely harbour so, thinking all would be quiet this early in the season, the course was set; against all Mediterranean odds, even the winds were blowing in the right direction.

By 1030, Arkyla was outside Valencia's harbour walls, the main and genoa set in a pleasant Force 3, and were being treated to some lazy sailing whilst soaking up the sun in the cockpit.  All was good with the world, and to my joy the hydrogenrator was pumping out the amps like it was on steroids!  Even the dolphins joined along for the ride!  As the afternoon progressed, so the winds strengthened and moved forward of the beam.  With two reefs set in the genoa, senses were shaken when an almighty 'bang' and a wildly flogging headsail indicated trouble... the CAM on the furling block had disintegrated!  Not a major drama, but the decision was made to fully roll the genoa, securing the line to a deck cleat, and the jib was rolled out in stead to head into the night watches.

Any notions of a cosy night crossing were soon dispelled once the orange ball dropped below the horizon; with a F5 on the bow it was bitterly cold even with four layers beneath ocean foulies!  The passage was not without its joys though; a moonless night let the stars shine bright and the arch of the Milky Way was clearly visible with the naked eye.  More dolphins came to visit, and bioluminescence was in plentiful supply sliding down the hull and off the stern into our wake.  Just before dawn the moon gave a spectacular display as it rose from behind Mallorca's mountainous north coast.  With 20 nm still to run, the wind deserted us however so it was under engine that we entered the harbour to anchor.

Lazy sailing
Moonrise over Mallorca

Port of Sóller - anchoring shenanigans:

The Port of Sóller, nestled within the surrounding peaks of the Traumantana mountain range, is the only true all-weather refuge along Mallorca's north coast.  It is distinct to the town of Sóller that lies inland, a 20 minute historic narrow-gauge tram ride into the hills.  Both towns ooze beauty, history, and charm and are, consequently, popular tourist destinations.  If visiting, a trip inland should not be missed.

The port is a working harbour with marina and prohibited naval zone.  A seaside town, it has plenty of restaurants, bars, and shops.  All these attractions, combined with the lack of alternative harbours or anchoring sites along this stretch of coast, means that competition for space can be intense, even out of high season.

Sóller, Mallorca

As with any Balearic anchorage, avoiding areas of Posidonia seagrass is a legal requirement that is enthusiastically enforced with significant (€800-1000) fines; this adds fuel to the anchoring fire as yachts make dubious, and risky, decisions on where to drop hook.  Winds can be confused in the confines of the harbour and boats swing erratically according to hull form and length of chain.  We chose a spot close to a classic schooner; an hour or so later, in a small world of coincidence, Arkyla's sister ship 'Nostra' (Regina 43, hull No. 41) entered the bay and settled 100m from us!  All was perfect until, close to dusk, an older generation 60-footer Oyster chose to position itself at the centre of our happy triangle; it dropped hook and the crew promptly shot off for dinner ashore!  As the light faded, the Oyster began its swing of doom; first I had to manhandle her off Arkyla's bow, next the schooner had to defend its stern, and finally Nostra had to fender up her broadside... an unscheduled anchor watch it was then!  To be fair to the double-handed French crew of the Oyster (who must have had a wonderful night ashore, not returning until past midnight), they were very apologetic and instantly set to weighing anchor to move into the deeper water in the bay.  If only the shenanigans ended there... the following day we returned from a trip ashore to find a charter boat dropping, to our eyes, clearly too close.  Diplomatically asking how much chain they had set, I suggested things may get complicated with the inevitable swirling wind shifts.  A little later, as their stern swung inches from Arkyla's bowsprit, they eventually (after more gentle persuasion) lifted anchor to reset further away; it was obvious that the chartering crew lacked experience, had a deep fear of anchoring, and had hoped that they could rest easy on their initial catch of the hook.

Soller harbour
Arkyla's sister R43 'Nostra'
Anchor shenanigans

Return to Valencia:

Wind and time dictated that our stay was regrettably short and sweet; an early morning departure had us heading back along a reciprocal track to the one that brought us here just two days earlier.  We were treated to a dramatic sunset passing the Columbres island group then, in the dark of night, a demonic display of lightning over Mallorca happily now 80 nm behind our stern.  A lone dolphin, visible only for the outline of phosphorescence it created, provided the only wildlife encounter of this leg.  Returning to Valencia, the boat was berthed for the thankfully not-too-long list of snags to be rectified.  All in all, not a bad trip to kick start Arkyla's 2024 season.

Some lessons learned:

  • Even. out of season, the Balearics can be busy and anchoring stressful.

  • Tests of new installations is essential before a major ocean crossing.

  • An early season sea trial is a great way to identify winter snags for fixing before the season fully gets under way.

Exiting the Med: Valencia to Gibraltar (12-28 May)

The Plan.  A planned departure of 13 May, and a scheduled haul-out in Algeceiras on the 28th of the same month, gave us two and half weeks to cover the 400 nm to the Bay of Gibraltar.  The key strategy was one of flexibility... hope for a good set of easterlies, and make progress west whenever weather allowed; inshore or offshore would most likely be dictated by the amount of time in the passage 'bank'.

Leg 1 - Valencia to Cartagena (12-13 May, 153nm)

Valencia to Cartagena

Westerlies! And a prolonged forecast for them - exactly what I wasn't hoping for!  Sixteen days may sound like a lot to rattle off 400 nm, but this is the Med and the wind can be a cruel mistress; I did not want to be put in a position of making foolhardy decisions so, with a 24-hour weather window opening up on 12 May (a day earlier than the planned departure), albeit one with a lot of potential motoring, the decision was made to head south to Denia then turn west toward our goal... Cartagena would be our first aim point.

The day starts golden and deadly calm - there will be no need for a bow thruster to exit Arkyla's berth which is often cursed with a tricky crosswind; this is a good thing as the thruster props are almost totally encrusted with growth after the winter layover - another job for haul-out!  We slip lines and head out of Marina de Valencia's protective walls for the last time... we are heading west!  Actually, we are first heading SSE, but in my head we are now following the sun out of the Med and once again Atlantic-bound!

Once through the assortment of oilers and large container vessels at anchor in the approaches, a breath of wind appears and soon we have the sails out and drawing, pulling us along at a respectable 5 knots.  Over the next 7 hours we make good progress though, as we near Denia, the wind veers and the genoa is replaced with the jib to make tacking around Punta del Emperador less arduous.  As dusk sets in, the wind drops and it is clear that sailing must be postponed; engine and nav lights are turned on to make the turn south-west round Cabo de la Nao.

Early morning, Valencia
Reaching toward denia
Container ship off Valencia
Good times!
Another golden welcome to the day

The night watches were windless and under motor.  With no moon, only the lights of Benidorm to starboard gave any form of visual reference.  In the pitch black, a large motor vessel appeared from nowhere and sped close down our port side; showing no AIS or Nav lights, and not raising even the smallest of blips on radar, we assumed it to be a stealth warship checking us out in the dead of night!  Clearly we were considered far to pretty and slow to be engaged in any nefarious activity and, just ss soon as they had appeared, they were gone again to leave us motoring unhindered until another golden sunrise ushered in the new day.  As any boat owner knows, senses become acutely tuned to the sounds of the mothership; five NM from Cartagena, my ears pricked up to a change in pitch from the stern gear.  Heaving aside grab bags, emergency pumps and bolt croppers to expose the shaft, I could see evidence of escaping oil from the dripless seal which was now, after 10 solid hours of motoring, scorching hot to the touch.  Caution won over bravado, and we leisurely eased Arkyla the last few miles into her reserved berth in Yacht Port Cartagena.  When making my shutdown checks, I also noticed evidence of water seeping from the rudder shaft seal... another job, along with the stern gear, for haul-out in Algeceiras!

Port stop in Cartagena:

Cartagena, with its fascinating history and mix of cultures, is a great place to stop and explore.  However, with a schedule to keep and rather stiff marina prices (€80 per night for 14m), it was the onset of strong westerlies that kept us harbour-bound here for a few days.  We didn't venture far from the waterside, but here you don't have to to delight in tapas, wander the streets of the old town, and explore the Roman excavations.  With small shots of both amazement and amusement, we noted the real estate market for historic frontage. I say frontage as this is exactly, and all, that you get;  peer behind the crumbling brick and stone facades and you discover scaffold-supported facades with empty development space behind - an excellent formula for bringing new life to historic areas!  The 'old' of the town contrasts starkly to the 'modern' of the port area.  This really is a city of contrasts.

Cartagena facade for sale
Nature meets architecture
Modern port area architecture

Leg 2 - Cartagena to Garrucha (15 May, 49nm)

We were not the only boat it transpired making dashes west between weather windows; slipping lines at first light to put the dockyard cranes and naval vessels in our wake, for our entire passage across the Golfo de Vera we were shadowed by 'Cactus', a Canadian-flagged Beneteau First 49.  When we rolled out sail, so did they; when we furled to motor so they followed our lead.  It was an uneventful, and somewhat uninspiring, passage but at least we were gradually making way toward the Bay of Gibraltar.  Once again, it was another day without any signs of marine life save a few seabirds... where are the dolphins?

Exiting Cartagena
Cartagena to Garrucha
Dockyard carnes of Cartagena

Port stop: Garrucha

What a strange little place Garrucha is!  Reviews on Navily warn of swell and dust and this was certainly the case for us.  The Port of Garrucha can only accommodate vessels to 12m and there are, apparently only few visitor berths to be had.  The newer Marina de Garrucha however can take the largest of cruising boats and has plenty of space.  The marina however is open to south-westerly swell and conditions can be very rolly when tied alongside; it is wise to deploy all fenders aboard and, if possible, hold the boat off the key using the spare 'stern-too' lazy lines if possible - it really can get a bit wild in here!  The marina shares the harbour with a commercial dock for loading gravel into container ships and, during week days, is the source of the aforementioned dust; Arkyla was literally covered within 24 hours!  All that said, the marineros are super helpful (though be warned few speak any English), and the price of a stay is cheap (€20 a night).  The shoreside facilities will not, shall we say, receive any awards however and most choose to close a holding tank and shower aboard whilst here!

The town itself has enough to keep you occupied for a few days if stuck in harbour.  It is a tourist resort, popular with Spaniards and Germans, that boasts the only 'Blue Flag' town beach in the whole of Europe; indeed, it would be idyllic were it not for the view of the commercial ships just across the harbour!  There are no shortage of bars and restaurants either; I thoroughly recommend the gin bar 'La Gintoneria' within the marina-side restaurant complex.

Garrucha's Blue Flag beach
Commercial ship in Garrucha
Garrucha Town Hall
Garrucha memorial statue

Leg 3 - Garrucha to Agua Dulce (19 May, 57nm)

After 4 days holed up in Garruche, a short weather window presents itself to push a little further west; if nothing else, escaping the dust and swell drives us to making the lines to slips ready for escape!  Time is tight however before another forecast onslaught of westerlies.  Ideally we would push to Almerimar but, if the forecast models hold true, this would entail two hours of bashing headlong into 25 knots to round Punta Sabinar.  Puerto Aguadulce is chosen instead; although this will take us a small dog leg to the top of the Bay Of Almeria, the 10nm saving on the day's route will hopefully get us tied up before the hefty winds hit.  That, at least, was the theory; reality had the forecast winds arrive ahead of schedule and, even with our shortened course, the last 10 nm across the bay was spent beating into the 25 knot winds we had hoped to miss.  By 1700 however, Arkyla was secure in harbour tied alongside the fuel dock for the night.

Garrucha to Agua Dulce

Port stop: Agua Dulce

After a night tied to the fuel dock without shore power, it was something of a shock to receive a low voltage warning when firing up the engine; in short, Arkyla's battery banks chose now to give up the ghost!  With flight and haul-out deadlines looming in Gibraltar, we couldn't afford to wait for replacement units to be shipped here, but we did decide to hang in the port a few days whilst the pesky westerlies continued to blow.  It's a pleasant place to wait out the weather however; a clean and secure marina, plenty of restaurants, nice beach, and good provisioning.

Agua Dulce beach
Agua Dulce marina tower
Agua Dulce Marina entrance

Leg 4 - Agua Dulce to Motril (23 May, 52nm)

Agua Dulce to Motril

We left Agua Dulce close to first light with some light fog hanging to the coast - the sun gave a kaleidoscope of colours as it gradually rose through, then above, the mist.  A light breeze gave some hope of sailing, but after an hour of slapping sails it was clear that this would be another motoring leg.  The only entertainment came from the VHF.  First, at 1000hrs, was a Pan Pan call detailing a MoB suspected to have happened at 0600hrs; we heard no more after this, but the hopes of finding a lost soul after four hours with no lifejacket could not have been good.  We were now close enough to pick up transmissions from the Straits, and we heard the first of what was to be numerous 'territorial water incursion' calls from Gibraltar.  We motored on, eventually berthing into the family run Marina Motril in the early evening.  Never before have I received such a warm welcome from proprietor-come-marinero - faith in the marine industry fully restored by this somewhat rickety destination!  We didn't venture ashore that evening, instead opting to throw back a few beers watching the Baleares ferry manoeuvering somewhat scarily close to our stern!

Dawn light leaving Agua Dulce
Motril harbour wall
Ferry manouevering off our stern
Motril entrance

Leg 5 - Motril to Fuengirola (24 May, 56nm)

Motril to Fuengirola

Tantalisingly close to our end destination, temptation was to push the last 105 NM direct to Gibraltar.  However, with a forecast for little to no wind, and some nagging doubts about the integrity of Arkyla's stern gland oil seal, I decided one more stop was still needed.  There were two obvious options; Benalmadena or Fuengirola.  I'd been into Benalmadena some 15 years previously and remembered it to be a somewhat brash resort for beer-swilling sun worshippers.  I opted to go the extra 5 NM into Fuengirola - an unknown entity for me save a week's post-A level trip to a friend's villa in 1983!

Exiting Motril we had a F3-4 off the beam so out rolled the main and genoa - what do these forecasters know!  Well, it seems they know quite a lot as, 20 minutes and a solitary NM later, the sails were once again furled and the engine back in action.  And so it would be for the remaining 50 NM.  We passed along the coast of Torremolinos, looking through the binoculars at the conjoined mass of high-rise apartment blocks and hotels; an awful blight on the spectacular natural scenery of this coast and what I would consider to be holiday hell.  Each to their own I suppose.

We slipped past the small anchorage outside the harbour (which I would have used had Arkyla's batteries been in better shape!) and tied to the waiting pontoon that I had earlier reserved.  Fuengirola didn't tempt us into the town beyond the restaurants lining the marina so, after a quick meal ashore, it was back to the boat for a night cap and sleep ahead of our last leg to Gibraltar Bay in the early morning.

Fuengirola anchorage
Fuengirola waiting quay

Leg 6 - Fuengirola to La Linea, Gibraltar Bay (25 May, 49nm)

Fuengirola to Gibraltar Bay

The last leg (of this seasonal segment at least)!  The sun came up, but once again someone had forgotten to turn on the wind machine... another 50 NM of motoring lay ahead of us.  We left the high-rise developments in Arkyla's stern to dodge the many fishing pots blotting our way west.  A few chuckles were raised at the expense of the odd looking kayaking-anglers (I have no idea where they intended to store any prospective catch), before we glided along a glassy sea past Marbella toward our destination.  Not a breath of wind even threatened to cause a ripple until we were weaving between the tankers anchored just inside the gate to the Strait.  Before rounding the rock a couple of pods of dolphin swam close by, but none were interested in paying us a proper visit.  As Arkyla made her turn around Europa point, I realised that it was a year to the day that she had passed this point heading in to the Med; it felt a little odd to be leaving this sea so soon and so relatively unexplored, but the Caribbean was most definitely calling.  Before long, Arkyla was secure in a finger berth in Alcaidesa Marina... time to prepare for her haul out ashore in Algeceiras across the bay!

Kayaking angler
Ships of Gib raltar Bay
Approaching the Rock
Dolphins of the Straits
Europa Point
TK8A2166.jpeg

Some lessons learned:

  • If sailing to a timeline, be prepared to motor... a lot!  I gave myself 3 weeks to cover the 400 NM from Valencia to Gibraltar Bay. but, even with some lengthy port stays, I put 64 hours on the Yanmar.

  • With boats stacking up early season at either end to enter or exit the Med, calling ahead to reserve berths is often prudent.

  • Anchoring options are relativelyfew and far between along this stretch of Spanish coastline.

  • I later learned that ports with an associated naval base may offer free berthing to yachts with a military connection - I could have saved a lot of money!

  • Some ports and marinas are uncomfortable in certain prevailing winds.

  • Be prepared to make short hops when opportunity arises to claw away at the westward miles.

Haul-out: El Rodeo, Algeciras (28 May-4 Jun)

Arkyla had not been hauled since 2022; after 2 years in the water she needed a hull polish, CopperCoat burnish, anode change, and bow thruster clean.  Additionally, this delivery from Valencia had identified a small leak from the rudder post, and the oil leak issue from the dripless seal stern gland.  With both limited budget and Schengen days, I needed an option that would allow me maximise 'time on boat'.

Isla Verde 'El Rodeo' boatyard in Algeciras lies on the western side of the Bay opposite Gibraltar; it is a 5 NM motor from Alcaidesa marina, La Linea.  Unlike most Spanish yards, it allows customers to live onboard whilst on the hard - a potential advantage when looking to maximise work time and minimise extra accommodation costs.  It's website boasts of an onsite chandlery 'with a wide variety of items and extensive catalogue of 1000s of items for delivery within 48 hours'.  More about all these things this later! Baseline haul-out rates were also very competitive.

Haul Out:

I was instructed to have the boat in place, ready to haul, at 0800hrs.  After a dawn dash across the Bay, I arrived at the slip by 0730 and already third in line!  Gradually the yard staff arrived on station; little English was spoken, but Google Translate helped understand the process (which was basically to wait my turn).  I had previously agreed to take down canvas (though leaving headsails furled), and to mark up lifting points.  The crane operator asked about Arkyla's underwater profile and having a profile drawing of the hull was a bonus.

Arkyla's length and weight were well within limits of the crane, and the operators were very professional taking great care during the lift.  Whilst in the slings she was pressure washed and I was again impressed by the yard staffs' attention to detail.  Once on the stands, they scraped the hard growth from hull and keel, and I was shown where to plug in for electricity.  It was now all down to me!

Arkyla on the hard

Marine Contractors:

El Rodeo did not have organic mechanics to help me replace stern gland oil seals and remove the upper rudder stock to replace the packing, but did recommend Cadiz-based company Norsur Nautica.  Hosé was semi-resident at the yard, so was there to assess my needs at haul-out, and was able to start work the next day; his technical knowledge, diligence, spoken English, and willingness to go that extra step were all excellent.  Hourly rates were also reasonable.

Boatyard amenities:

On-site services were not as expected.  Site ablutions of three toilets (only two with seats) were of dubious cleanliness, as was the one basic shower; given the yard charges €20 per night to stay onboard your vessel, I chose to invest an additional €20 each evening to stay in a 4*  Reina Cristina hotel a 10-minute e-scooter ride away.  As the yard was within an enclosed port industrial complex, with no shops or restaurants, staying in the hotel made further sense in terms of feeding myself!

The 'chandlery' was also significantly 'over advertised'.  It held no basic stock, not even compound, polish, or pads; when I exhausted my onboard supply it was my new best friend Hosé who sourced and delivered items.  The yard promise of 48-hour delivery was not only overly optimistic but also outrageously expensive.  It was Sod's Law that my Random Orbital Polisher died a death with the port side of the hull still unstarted; the best of the boater community came through however, and a fellow haul-out local insisted on driving me to a retail outlet some 10km out of town to purchase a new unit!

Boatyard costs:

The outline cost for the yard was very reasonable (especially the cane lift out/in), however the non-optional extras significantly added to the final price.  These included; daily scaffold hire (€20/day), electricity and water (€16/day), clean-up/waste charge (€10/day).  For the external contractor, there was a 10% surcharge to Hosé's final labour bill.  Electing not to stay onboard during my stay (€20/night) I also incurred some form of charge for the days working after yard-hours.

Bowthruster encrusted with growth
Bowthruster: after cleaning and antifoul
Polished Flexofold prop

Relaunch:

The relaunch went just as smoothly as the haul out a week earlier.  Motoring back across the Bay, it was instantly clear that all the hard work had paid off; the bow thruster now provided sideways propulsion, and the cleaned Flexofold prop and hull gave Arkyla at least an extra 1.5 knots speed through water.  There were no leaks from the rudder post, and the stern gland oil reservoir stayed exactly as it should - full!  All that remained now was to replace the domestic bank and starter battery.  Arkyla has a relatively small battery compartment, and only Leoch batteries came correctly sized to give the amount of Amp Hours I needed to replace.  Unfortunately I could only find Leoch availability in the UK and, post-BREXIT, this meant a whole load of hurt to source within the EU.  Electrical Marine Services (EMS) of Gibraltar however were able to import the desired units - I was now heading to the Rock!

Some lessons learned:

  • Be wary of online claims regarding available services at a yard of interest - check reviews and ask direct questions.

  • Check the small print for supplementary costs above the baseline.

  • Make friends with others in the boat yard... you never know when a favour may be called upon.

  • Try to have all materials needed onboard before arriving at the yard - you don't know what may be available

  • Research accommodation costs in the vacinity of target yards as these could be as important to the overall cost of the lift.

A brief stay in Gibraltar (10-20 Jun):

I needed to move Arkyla to Gibraltar for two reasons; to fit the replacement battery bank (as the Leoch 130AH AGMs could not be supplied to Spain in less than an estimated 3-4 months), and to collect the Parasailor spinnaker that had been ordered some three months back.  The move to Gib had another important aspect too; to stop my Schengen days ticking off whilst I waited for the batteries and, as it happened, a suitable weather window out of the Straits.

Arkyla beneath the Sunborn hotel, Ocean Village Marina.
Gibraltar
Stern-to in Queensway marina

There are two berthing options in Gibraltar; Ocean Village & Marina Bay which lies to the north close to the airport, and Queensway Quay Marina situated within the main harbour area of the territory.  We initially went into Ocean Village and were moored directly beneath the bows of the 5* floating 'Sunborn' hotel.  Ocean Village has probably the best ablution facilities of anywhere I have been; where else are you treated to a private shower room with bath and toilet?  The downside is the cost; although on a par with Spanish Alcaidesa marina the other side of the runway, it is almost twice the price of its southerly neighbour Queensway.   With a delay to delivery of the batteries, after a few days we moved to Queensway; remarkable value and a quieter setting with fewer, but more upmarket, restaurants.  Both marinas are within walking distance of the town, but for Sheppards Chandlery, Ocean Village is closer; the equally well-stocked Gib Yachts Chandlery is easier reached from Queensway.

A trip up the Rock:

I've spent a lot of time previously in Gibraltar but, shamelessly, never ventured further than the main High Street; This visit I was frog-marched by my crew to the cable car to explore 'up top'.  And very glad of the forced tourism I was too!  Apart from the spectacular views into both the Bay and the western Med, there are fascinating exhibits through the old military tunnels and installations and, of course, the chance to have your possessions stolen by famed Barbary Macaques resident on the hill.  Leave nothing to chance with these daylight robbers; they will have your hat, glasses, and be emptying your backpack within seconds if you are not constantly on guard!

View from the top; the Bay and the Med
Rock Apes; Barbary Macaques

Parasailor training:

The much anticipated delivery of Arkyla's new Parasailor spinnaker was duly executed by Gib Cargo's aircraft-to-boat service.  Stuart Anderson of Ocean Chandlery, the UK suppliers of Parasailor, soon followed for a free day of training on the new kite.  This is a great service as Stuart not only teaches how to launch, fly, and douse the sail, but he comes loaded with a great assortment of blocks, rings and soft shackles to help best set the sheets and guys according to the vagaries of your boat.  It was clear that Arkyla's forward stay and pulpit ladder would cause some issues, but we managed to rig a temporary solution to enable us to complete the training.  Later I handed Pritchard's Marine (the only 316 stainless steel fabricators in Gibraltar) a basic bowsprit extension design and, 24 hours later, I was fully equipped to effortlessly fly the new sail free of snags.  It has to be said, Situational Awareness was tested to the max learning the intricacies of this new sail whilst trying to weave around anchored tankers and dodge the fast ferries of Algeciras!

Parasailor training in Gibraltar Bay
Bowsprit extension

Batteries replaced:

A slight delay through customs of our new batteries kept us in Gibraltar a few more days than planned but, as this coincided with a spell of strong westerlies, it didn't seriously impact the plan to push back into the Atlantic.  The batteries were supplied and expertly fitted by Dave of EMS who also identified and cured the spurious hydrogenerator voltage readings on the Victron monitor; a quick rewire of the negative lead was all that was needed!  This was the last piece of the maintenance and refit puzzle... Arkyla was fully ocean ready!

Some lessons learned:

  • Beware the difference in prices between the Gibraltar marinas.

  • If importing goods into Gibraltar, use a distribution company that can ease the customs process.

  • Maintain high situational awareness when sailing in Gibraltar Bay - there's a lot to hit, anchored and fast moving!

  • Take time to visit the Rock - but beware the ASBO apes!

Gibraltar to Lagos - return to Orca Alley (21-28 Jun):

Orca Alley
Orca hotspot map

Finally boat, crew, and (of a sort) weather were ready... it was time to re-enter Orca Alley.  Last year the route into the Med was non-contentious; just stick to the shallow water along the Portuguese and Spanish coasts.  This year however Arkyla was heading south; at some point she must cross into deep ocean water, in so doing exposing her to risk of orca attack.  Should this be done early (crossing direct to Ceuta then following the Moroccan coast), or later from a place along the European coast?  The African route is attractive in that it is significantly shorter, but has its own problems; unmarked fishing nets within the shallow waters, high instances of orca attacks (especially off Cap Spartel), and some reports of attempted piracy incidents off the west African coast.  Information was again our weapon, and the expert advice all pointed toward the longer northern route.  Taking this option would mean missing the opportunity to swing by Madeira, but safety was the overriding consideration.  We used the same strategies as last year (see 2023 cruising blog), but equipped Arkyla with a set of waterproof firecrackers as a last line of defence if we were to be attacked by the Iberian Killer Whales - one yacht had already been sunk this season and many more disabled.

Taking the northern route meant, of course, that I must check back into Schengen if I were to be allowed to step off the boat during the day sails westward.  This can be done at the La Linea border customs post (there is a dedicated section within the police building located to the right of the pedestrian crossing point), but to get here I must exit Gibraltar, then dock Arkyla at Spanish Marina Alcaidesa to enter the EU.  In preparation of a pre-dawn start, intent was to hang off the hook that night; as such I asked if I could come alongside the waiting pontoon for 30 minutes whilst I dashed to check out.  This was duly granted by the marina staff... but only if I paid for a full night of berthing!  I felt robbed of my wallet - literally in broad daylight - but I had little option but to hand over €40 before heading back out to anchor.  Before turning in for the night, a near-full moon rose behind the yachts at anchor on a collision course for the top of the Rock; when we woke we saw it again before it rapidly dropped behind the mountains of Algeciras, plunging the bay into darkness.

Moonrise behind the Rock
Night activity in Gibraltar Bay

Hop 1: Gibraltar Bay to Cadiz (21 Jun, 80nm)

Gibraltar Bay in the dark is not a place for the faint-hearted; anchored tankers, moving commercial shipping, early fast ferries, and shallows off the western prominentories necessitate a sharp (and very much awake) mind.  I was thankful not only of radar and AIS, but also the keen eyes of my crew alerting me to obstacles stationary and moving!  Rounding Punta del Carnero, dawn was finally setting in and the sky behind the Rock turned from deep blues to bright oranges.  There was no significant westerly to hamper us, but neither was there any easterly!  The day was to be characterised by motoring along the 20m contour line.  Our timing (departing two hours after High Water Gibraltar) to round Tarifa at slack tide was impeccable and the favourable tide made for fast progress.  Such good progress in fact that as we approached our original aim point of Barbate, we chose to continue on to Cadiz.  Local intelligence was that the Zahara net east of Barbate (where last year we took a somewhat scary inside path) was anchored to shore, so we motored as fast as possible round the outer marker in 40m of water; we would later find out that a yacht some 6 hours later would be attacked and disabled here by an orca on our exact track, so when docked we toasted to dodging a bullet!  The Almadabra tunny nets are charted and well marked, but the two don't always correlate!  Finding the cardinal buoys can be a challenge unless you know what to look for, with some mounted on small, anchored vessels.  Beware stray buoys too as you can never be too certain if they are attached to the wider net.

Ten NM out from Cadiz the wind strengthened - on the nose of course!  This was not to deter us pulling out some sail however for a few hours beating toward our destination, and we experienced some sporty sailing before rounding the corner to be swept along with the fast flowing tide to Puerto America where we had pre-booked a berth.

Tunny net cardinal buoy
Tarifa harbour entrance
Beating into a F5 before Cadiz

Port Stop: Cadiz

Check back later as this section is completed

Offshore to the Canaries - coming soon
 

South to Cape Verdes - coming soon
 

Atlantic Crossing - coming soon
 

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