19/12/11 – The ARC is finally over……

The parties in Las Palmas passed by and it was time to leave. We had a great ‘departure committee’ consisting of Sandy, Beth, James, Guy and SueAnne. Aztec was brimming with stores and if we have forgotten anything…..well, we certainly weren’t going to starve. The atmosphere in the marina was great, with bands playing and lots of spectators making a huge amount of noise.

Dockside family farewells………………………………….The Team ready to go…..

We’re off to run the gauntlet of spectators…………the mass start of 220 boats….that’s us over there..

The start was a bit nerve wracking with so many boats milling around but we crossed the line in the lead group and popped the small spinnaker for a couple of  hours of close racing. By nightfall there were still lots of navigation lights all around us, so it was a busy first night watch for everyone. However, we all quickly fell into the boat routine……well there was nothing else to do…..bit of sail trimming….bit of fishing……eat….sleep….bit of sail trimming……

Bob & Lincy taking it all in their stride……………….one of the many spectacular sunrises…..

Goose-winged with poled out genoa, surprisingly stable…..the sport fishing commences….

For the next 19 days, much of the time was occupied with food and fishing. We landed 23 Dorado and 4 Tuna (plus 3 flying fish that arrived on their own) during the crossing, most of which we returned to the sea to fight another day….but a few made some fantastic meals, including Sushimi……and of course there were also many stories of the big ones that got away.

Bob taking up the fight…………………………landing an 8.5kg Dorado for dinner.

Food takes on an extraordinary focus when at sea and so we ate very well and celebrated a number of special occasions in the appropriate fashion.

Couldn’t run to a Thanksgiving turkey but the burgers were good…making bread on deck.

Very fresh Tuna Sushimi, with wasabi & ginger…….St.Andrews Day, it had to be haggis…..and a tot…

We were often surprised by the wildlife in the Atlantic. The fish were plentiful and beautiful, also the dolphins and turtles but the highlight was definitely being joined by a pod of Minke whales for a few hours, so close that their blow holes showered us with water.

A Minke whale, up close and personal…………..Flying fish found on deck in the morning.

It took 2 weeks before we caught a tuna…………..A new helmsman takes over….

Towards the end the crossing the weather changed and the trade winds failed and despite efforts to avoid the low pressure trough, we were becalmed for 48 hours. With no prospect of wind for another hours, we made the difficult decision to motor the last 200 miles to St.Lucia.

Running repairs, making a part for the Duogen…….Amanda doing one of the regular rig checks…

Catching the last of the wind with the big spinnaker….Lincy popped up the mast for a look….

Becalmed…..beautiful but frustrating……….the decision to motor….

We did find wind as we approached St.Lucia. What an amazing welcome. Russell and Tammy had come up from Grenada with ‘Impulse’, the ARC team were waiting on the dock with a cold rum punch and friends from other ARC boats dropping by.

Fantastic welcome from ‘Impulse’…………sailing round Pigeon Island to the finish after 2700 miles.

A great end to an amazing trip…..and so to the partying begins…….

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18/11/11 – Preparations & Parties in Las Palmas

We enjoyed Lanzarote but were happy to be finally leaving to join the official ARC preparations in Las Palmas, a 120 mile overnight crossing. The forecast (just for a change!) turned out a little less than accurate, so we had a lively sail into the wind, with some interesting sea conditions. We arrived tired and wet but in time to see the Queen Mary 2 leaving port, with many locals stopping to watch, despite the fact that liners are an everyday sight for them.

Some interesting seas and even a rainbow over Gran Canaria……………the majestic Queen Mary 2….

There are lots of interesting activities in the build up to the ARC, planting trees to help reforest the island (and offset our carbon footprint), visits from many professionals to help you prepare your boat, classroom briefings, parties, provisioning…..and of course more parties!

Digging for victory over carbon………watering the newly planted ARC forest trees….

The ARC Aztec Dream team joining the parade…..the ARC parade moves into the marina…

Time for sight-seeing, Gran Canaria’s huge volcanic crater…visited Columbus’s house in the old town.

Taking on liquid stores, even the dock was groaning………where’s it all going to be stored?

The boat ‘ham’ with the boat ham………………….party on Aztec Dream….

Ready to set off to the ARC costume party……’Batman Bob’ recalls his youth with Simon from Casamara

Although we have had 2 full weeks here, the time has passed very quickly, with lots of things to fill our days. We have learnt a huge amount from the briefings and the experts who have come onboard, which has been invaluable.

How many engineers does it take to fix a watermaker?……the safety demo helicopter rescue….

Some of the colourful ARC boats in the marina…..Aztec Dream all dressed up….ready to go?

So, we are all set for the departure on Sunday. Amanda’s (nervous?) parents are kindly here to see us off, with James, Guy and SueAnne also coming in tonight to make sure we actually go!

And finally………..did Steve Jobs really pass away…..or is he incognito, working as a waiter in the mountains of Gran Canaria….?


Next update will be from St.Lucia…….

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22/10/11 – The Atlantic Islands..last stops before the ARC

Ross joined us for the 500 mile crossing from the Portuguese coast to the Atlantic island of Madeira, which was initially very quiet, with quite a bit of motoring due to very light winds. However, the wind did pick up and the last 2 days were excellent sailing……which was just as well because the engine packed up, showing all the symptoms of a return to our contaminated fuel issue that we thought had been cured in Gibraltar. Fortunately we were able to implement a temporary fix by the time the engine was required to motor into the marina at Quinta da Lorde.

The Atlantic proved much better fishing…1st tuna………Ross after his 1st solo night watch…

Entering Quinta da Lorde marina, Madeira………..’scrubbing’ the fuel and fuel tank….

Madeira proved to be a very pleasant surprise. The marina staff and the engineers for the engine were excellent, the food superb and the sight-seeing somewhat different! We all had a great time and were very sad to leave but the marina’s were all fully booked and had made special arrangements to accommodate us for the 3 nights of our stay.

Traditional music in Funchal……and enjoying Espetada’s (skewers) in the hills above the city..

It took 2 cable cars to reach the Botanical Gardens…..then down the street on a basket toboggan!

18th century vintage records at Blandys wine lodge…..no room, moored on the fuel dock under the cliffs

From Madeira, it was a 300 mile crossing to the Canaries, with great winds we had a fast sail the whole way and we arrived in Lanzarote ahead of schedule, mooring at the beautiful Puerto Calero. After the lush vegetation on Madeira, Lanzarote is a desolate wasteland of volcanic rubble, a complete contrast.

Miles of inhospitable volcanic rubble, the ‘Badlands’…………exploring on alternative transport!

It’s hard work growing vines, each plant needs protection….more like a moonscape!

Enjoyable ‘swing/jazz’ concert in the marina (The Lost Fingers)….the marina with Fuertaventura behind.

So, another stage of our journey draws to an end…..and we are going home for a week before heading off to Las Palmas for the final preparations prior to the Atlantic crossing. Amanda, however, has started her revision for her role as boat medic……..

Practice ‘suturing’ a lemon skin together….I don’t think it will ever be the same!

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06/10/11 – Preparing for the crossing to the Canaries

Dear All,

We managed to limp into Gibraltar, with the engine still playing up and restricted to low revs only, which made life interesting when the current was running strongly. The engineer came onboard the next day and diagnosed the problem as contaminated fuel (it didn’t taste right apparently!), which was jellifying in the fuel filters. After two days work, all was resolved and we were able to motor round to be lifted out of the water for the other scheduled works.

Approaching the rock under engine…slowly………….the problem was finally diagnosed…..phewww!

Even allowing extra time and working with the boatyard, it seemed like we would never get away from Gibraltar, much as we quite like the place! Finally departed a couple of days later than scheduled but with all jobs completed and everything functioning well onboard Aztec. It was a little testing, especially as the boatyard temporary lift facilities involved using the commercial dock/crane and at various points Amanda just couldn’t watch and had to turn away!

Coming out…these guys were very quick…………..and parked up amongst the cargo containers

Our neighbour, Abramavich’s Eclipse (worlds largest yacht)…..look closely, that’s a man on the stern!

The last few days were spent back in the water with the rigging work being done and the new generator being commissioned. We did find some things to keep us entertained though.

Moored right next to the runway……………….an RAF jet coming to land

Take That (tribute) concert…OK I admit it, I was there! Robby!!…Regimental band ready for Gibraltar Day

So, here we are back in Lagos on the Portuguese Algarve, making final preparations for the crossing to Lanzerote. Unfortunately we discovered that the boat had been broken into whilst in the Gibraltar boatyard, so we’re trying to replace the fishing rods, binoculars and various domestic electrical items that went missing.

Coming up to the lifting bridge to enter the marina…..Beautiful weather and scenery.

We also developed a VHF radio problem that is being worked on but, all being well, we’ll set sail in a couple of days time. It has been great to rediscover Lagos, it’s a lovely town and really friendly people.

Next stop…..Lanzerote…..maybe via Madeira…..depends on the wind….

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23/08/11 – Back across the Med….

We had 1600 miles to get across the Mediterranean to Gibraltar, so it has involved quite a few days and nights at sea. The weather has been interesting , by way of a change! We have experienced a few good sailing days but none of the expected calm, windless days and quite varied sea conditions, including a rather rough gale off the Spanish coast.

Sailing off into the sunset (literally)………..and traffic in the Messina Strait..”Behind you!”

Stopped off in Cagliari in southern Sardinia to meet up with our fellow ARC crew, Bob & Lincy, who were kind enough to show us around town. We had a fun few days and it was great to eat Italian food and drink Italian wine again after the rustic fare in Croatia, we hadn’t realised how much we missed it!

Up the ancient ‘Elephant Tower’ in Cagliari…….the drab exterior of the main market….

……and the contrast of the treasures within……the amazing fresh swordfish…..and suckling pigs.

After some final planning discussions for the Atlantic crossing we pressed on to the Balearics where we had an unscheduled stop in Palma due to an engine problem. It was, however, great to be back in Mallorca and was not quite as crazily busy as we expected for August.

Aztec ARC Dream Team!……………….venturing ashore from anchorage at Playa Trench, Mallorca

Birthday celebrations in Abaco, Palma…….and the wonderful sight of the Palma Classics Regatta

Having had an engineer onboard for the afternoon, the engine problem was ‘fixed’, but actually came back again only a couple of days later and is still with us. We limped into Almerimar on the Spanish coast, where we’re taking a few days rest before making the last 150 miles passage to Gibraltar, where we hope to get everything on the boat in top condition.

Beating into a Force 7 off Almerimar, bit wet……..Baking hot…….but nice buns!

So we’re now looking forward to shortly returning home for a couple weeks whilst Aztec is hauled out of the water in the Gibraltar boatyard.

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05/08/11 Clearing out of Croatia

Brother, Ross, and niece, Jade (17), joined us in Zadar and we spent a few days revisiting some our favourite spots  in the national parks. Although there were sunny days, the weather was unsettled with some amazing thunder storms and quite a lot of wind which was somewhat challenging, especially when a mooring buoy snapped during a squall in the middle of night (fortunately we were on deck already as the wind had whipped up so suddenly…and disappeared just as quickly). We spent more time in sheltered marina’s than planned but they were still beautiful locations.

Settling in for a rustic local fish supper……………….my dinghy is half empty, awash after a thunderstorm

The ‘lunar’ landscape of the Kornati islands…………………the beautiful situated Piskera marina..

Ross appeared to have a great time but unfortunately Jade, despite momentary enthusiasms, just found out a lot of things she didn’t like doing….swimming, snorkelling, sunbathing, eating fish, ice cream…..and others that she had no interest in…..sight-seeing, sailing……alas it would appear that the boating life is just not her thing. Oh well, you can’t win them all!

All too soon it was time for us to think about heading south but we had some time to visit a few new places along the way, as well as a couple of familiar ones.

The bustling island of the old town of Trogir……..moored right opposite Trogir’s pocket castle

Back at Sesula to the traditional village restaurant…and the result…fish and potatoes from the fire…yum!

The lovely town of Stari Grad…..same place a little later, the passegiata….where did all this lot come from?!

As we finished mooring against the town quay in Stari Grad, the distinguished Italian gentleman on the yacht next door approached us with a saucepan. Having made too much fresh spaghetti amatriciana, he presented us with lunch….and it was truly delicious!

The final stop in Croatia was the out-lying island of Lastova, closed to the public until relatively recently, as it was used as a Soviet military base. It was a great place to leave from, peaceful and picturesque. Even visiting the harbour master to clear out of the country was interesting, it was like a scene out of Fawlty Towers…..he was so ridiculously rude that I struggled not to laugh! I wish I could have recorded it.

At anchor at Mali Lago on Otok Lastova island………and going ashore for a picnic lunch.

From here we are effectively starting our journey to join the start of the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers in the Canaries, so our last act before leaving Croatia, was to raise the official ARC flag.

Over the next week we will be sailing 400 miles to Sicily, then another 300 miles to Sardinia.

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16/07/11 Comfortable in Croatia

Well, it was great to be back in the UK (briefly), even if we did miss the good weather. Bit of a crazy schedule, spending a couple of lovely days in Scotland (despite the rain) for the Queens Garden Party (fantastic time, thank you Peter!) and catching up with friends and the post at home.

Hay being baled at Woodbrook………………………..Outside Holyrood Palace after the Garden Party…..

Meanwhile, Aztec Dream was  looked after very well at Marina Dalmacija, at Sukosan, just outside Zadar and very convenient for the airport. It’s the biggest marina in Croatia, so you need your dinghy to get around. About half of the 1200 berths are vacated on a Saturday morning as the enormous fleets of charter boats leave!

The promenade in Zadar, it fills with people in the evening……the historic centre from the water…

We spent a few days in the popular and expensive, but beautiful, Kornati Islands. The islands were used for agriculture by the people living closer to the mainland, so the houses used to be just huts for storage and odd nights shelter and now serve as 2nd homes, with the land and waters preserved as a national park.

Aztec moored in Vrulje in the Kornati Islands…….looking out from the anchorage…

Above the anchorage at Otok Smokvica………..and a typical Kornati commuter arriving home!

The last week we have spent a bit further north and it seems that the charter boats don’t really come this way, so a chance to anchor is beautiful bays, swim and BBQ…..and do a bit of maintenance. We thought July might get quite busy, but we’ve spent the night in bays on our own or with just a few other boats dotted around, which has been a pleasant surprise.

Rigging (or wearing!) the new cruising chute………..’The Office’, on a trustee conference call….

The crew at work….polishing (and posing!)……….Flying the flag for a patriotic BBQ….

Tomorrow we head back to Zadar to do some provisioning and pick up some guests. I suspect we will be revisiting some of the favourite places we’ve found over the last few weeks.

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27/06/11 Cruising Croatia

Some said it would never happen…..but we are finally reaching a more peaceful pace, which is apparently called ‘cruising’! Croatia is living up to its reputation for beautiful islands, calm anchorages and friendly people. The wind generator and water-maker are now coming into their own. Some good sailing between the islands and the navigation is generally not too challenging, though there is the occasional reminder to pay attention…..

Ooops…..a boat wedged on a reef……………………..Heading inland, up the Rijeka Krka….

One unusual excursion was 10 miles up the river Krka, past the city of Sibenik to a town called Skradin to see the falls at upper reaches of the river. It was a memorable trip, with some interesting traffic on the water, but it would appear that ‘health & safety’ is moving in as Croatia progresses toward EU membership, as you are no longer allowed to bathe under the falls themselves.

Glad this wasn’t on a narrow section!………………..the river near the falls….

Under EU rules, no swimming allowed……………..but the falls were very beautiful…

Mooring stern-to in Skradin………………………the view across to the pretty town..

We have hopped between many islands but our favourite spot is in the national park of Telascica on Dugi Otok, where spent a few days enjoying the amazing scenery and seclusion….for some reason there aren’t too many charter boats around in this spot.

Early morning calm in Luka Telascica…………….the ‘door to door’ supermarket helps to keep us going…

So, we have reached the furthest point north that we plan to go in Croatia, with a visit to Losinj, a place that is apparently very popular with the Italians. English speaking is less common and everyone talks to you in German or Italian but we are having fun using our (very) few words of Croat!

Lovely Mali Losinj………………..and Happy Birthday, opening presents on the move after an early start..

So, we’re heading home to the UK for a week shortly, then back to enjoy a final few weeks in this amazing country before the annual invasion of boats and people hits in August.

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18/06/11 – Croatia…..was it worth it?

The technical problems that held us up in Brindisi were finally resolved….and we did visit a wine festival in the city while we were waiting, so it wasn’t all bad!

So finally we crossed successfully the 150 miles to Croatia, though we did put our spare GPS and VHF radio in the oven (for protection) for most of way, as the electrical storms during the night were quite spectacular. Cleared into Croatia at Vela Luka, where they assemble the Police, Customs, Harbourmaster and any other officials they can find, to fill out all the forms and pay the numerous taxes…..and welcome you to the country.

The wine festival was just as much about the food….first stop in Croatia at Vela Luka….

Vela Luka, a charming local town, with the odd tourist….fantastic sailing in the islands.

In the Pakleni islands……………………then on to the beautiful city of Hvar (Pakleni’s in the background)

You’re never far from your boat in Hvar harbour…..and enjoying warm sunny weather at last.

The scenery and abundance of different places to sail to and moor is quite amazing. More charter boats around than we’ve ever seen, mostly sailed by Germans. It’s already quite busy on the water…..and the Italians in their motor boats don’t arrive for another month apparently! Shopping in the markets has been fun…..and you meet some characters…

Evo, the ‘bon viveur’, kept us amused…and well fed……moored off the island of Solta, Uvala Sesula.

We met a lovely Austrian couple who have been sailing in Croatia for 30 years, so we’re now armed with dozens of recommended places to visit, so I suspect that the next few weeks will disappear fast.

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03/06/11 – Brindisi & the crossing to Croatia….Take 1!

On arrival at Siracusa, there was a gale blowing, so we anchored in the bay for a couple of nights before entering the marina and securing Aztec for a week’s stay whilst we journeyed home to help celebrate Amanda’s father’s ‘significant’ birthday……sorry Sandy, I hope you weren’t trying to keep it quiet! The drive across Sicily from Siracusa to the airport was quite easy until we hit the outskirts of Palermo in the rush hour…..the driving antics make London look very tame…..we just ended up laughing at it all, but definitely the worst place I have ever driven!

Enroute…..passing the stunning motoryacht ‘Nero’……and another impressive smoking volcano…Etna.

The anchorage at Siracusa after the gale….Sandy’s significant birthday….what a great party in Scotland!

Siracusa is a beautiful city, with some ancient history (going back to 750BC), as well as being a nice place to explore the markets and the streets of the old town. Here the architecture of Ancient Greece, the Romans and the Spanish are layered over each other and fact is blurred with legend.

Siracusa cathedral……………………..and it’s beautiful Madonna statue….

The cathedral was built over a 500BC Greek temple….Roman laundry, underneath a restaurant we ate at!

The 500BC Greek theatre, extended by the Romans……the ‘Ear of Dionysius’, a quarry and prison.

The big boats start to arrive in Syracusa………Amanda in ‘cruising mode’ before a night watch.

Leaving Syracusa, the journey to Brindisi on the east coast of Italy was 300 miles, which took us 3 days…..we must be slowing down into ‘cruising mode’! In Brindisi we also needed to get the boatyard to fix a problem with the pressurised fresh water system onboard….which inevitably took a couple of days.

The mobile Aztec Dream garden is coming on nicely… the rudder shaped monument to sailors in Brindisi…

So, then we left under sail for the 150 mile crossing to Croatia. The wind died after about 3 hours of sailing, so went to start the engine but it wouldn’t engage the starter motor. So we turned back towards Brindisi and have been here for another few days already (complicated by a local holiday), awaiting the boatyard to complete repairs. Oh well, at least the sun is shining and Croatia will still be there when we finally get to cross the Adriatic…….

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